On one of the early morning talk shows yesterday they had author Emily Esfahani Smith talking about the four “pillars” of meaning in life and the importance of finding them.
This empowering book argues that the search for meaning can immeasurably deepen our lives and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness.
There is a myth in our culture that the search for the meaning of life is some mystical pursuit – that you have to travel to a distant monastery or search through dusty volumes of ancient writings to figure out life’s great secret.
The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us – right here, right now. Emily Esfahani Smith lays out the four pillars upon which meaning rests.
Belonging: We all need to find our tribe and forge relationships in which we feel understood, recognized, and valued – to know we matter to others.
Purpose: We all need a far-reaching goal that motivates us, serves as the organizing principle of our lives, and drives us to make a contribution to the world.
*Storytelling: We are all storytellers, taking our disparate experiences and assembling them into a coherent narrative that allows us to make sense of ourselves and the world.
Transcendence: During a transcendent or mystical experience, we feel we have risen above the everyday world and are connected to something vast and meaningful…Awareness that there is Something bigger than ourselves in the universe.
The first thing that caught my attention in the conversation yesterday was a discovery Smith made in the vital importance of separating the meaning in life from the pursuit of happiness in life. She gave this example:
Meaning may be even more important than happiness
“Lack of meaning in life is a better predictor for suicide than lack of happiness. In other words, you are more likely to give up on life because it feels meaningless than because you don’t feel very happy in it.
This is confirmed by the fact that suicide rates are higher in some countries that also have high levels of happiness… such as Denmark and Finland. (Remember…Denmark won the “Happiest Country in the World” in recent years?)
Smith asked the audience to think about the following observations she had made…
A comfortable life that has no meaning in it is not a great life. *Excerpt from Smith’s conversation:
“So that’s why I think that spending our lives chasing money, material things, titles and achievements we do not care about is a total waste of our time. I think we should turn inwards to see what matters to us and what we can do about it.
This is what will make our lives meaningful. According to famed psychologist Martin Seligman, meaning contributes to life satisfaction more than material things. We are better off if we focus on that. But how do we experience meaning?”
This is when she shared the four pillars of meaning already… cited for you in this post. When I got to storytelling…I stopped to read what her thoughts on this important pillar involved… out of curiosity.
It is important that we continuously “edit” our personal life stories as we change and grow. Our early stories are based on what we overheard our parents or adults define us by….
For me…this view of myself as a young child (early chapters of my life) included observations of insecurity, thumb-sucking for anxiety, overwhelming home sickness, fear of loss, fear of separation….in other words…my first years were spent as a terribly insecure child with anxiety disorders and fears from witnessing and being exposed to…too much tragedy too early in my life…
But then fifth grade arrived and a very special teacher took me under her wing and made me her “Eliza Dolittle” project…purposely choosing me for all the important clubs…Student Council representative, fifth-grade dance princess, crossing guard (with my badge won proudly) for our class, etc.
Her commitment worked…I left fifth grade accepted by my peers, extroverted, with fresh eyes seeing life (no long as a tragedy) but an exciting adventure. An amazing turning-point adding an important new chapter to my narrative!!!!!!
Good things did emerge, however from these early sad chapters in my story. They were imagination, love of books, writing, creative visualizations, and love of extended family. Later this love would continue to extend to friends, strangers….I became an avid people lover.
The middle chapters of my narrative include my share of happiness and sadness, loss and new discoveries..(children, divorce, teaching, achievements, disappointments…all the building tools to keep pushing us to find meaning in our lives.
But it was breast cancer and the very real possibility of a shortened life that became the next turning point in my narrative. “little c” did more for me in my search for my own personal meaning than anything else…because I had to dig downward before I could expand outward.
As my last chapters take form now…seeing life through fresh eyes, living in complete gratitude for the extra time God has deemed appropriate to accomplish His directed task.. For me to use my passions and talents (He bestowed upon me) to invite others to embrace life with me and come along for the shared ride through my learning post…sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth…but always spiritually guided by my Creator!
So until tomorrow….Let us never forget to continue to edit our life story (as we change and grow through God’s guidance) knowing that…
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
*Bliss (the little girl statue) knows how to find happiness and meaning in life in small gestures…Always turn your face upward to the Sun and God for directions, listen to the birds, and surround yourself with flowers.
Veronica, Brooke’s daughter-in-law, is a great mother…when in doubt just let children play in left-over free ‘natural’ entertainment…mud puddles! Life doesn’t get much better!
(Caleb is “Mr. Clean” and Emma Grey is “Mud Queen of the Puddles.”)