Sunday, August 21, 2016

On the Relentless Pursuit of a Meaningful Life

Screenshot of page one of an image search 21 August 2016

I don’t know if your Facebook feed is anything like mine, but mine is chock full of friends, contacts and brands sharing motivational quotes, affirmations, tips on meditation and mindfulness, yoga poses, and useful articles to hack your life, reach your goals, follow your dreams and be the best version of you that you can be. I know you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about. In theory, these are all things to help us live a happier and more fulfilled life, about finding our purpose and to improve.

I’m not immune to this stuff either. I’ve shared a lot of this stuff on social media myself. I’ve done the Tony Robbins thing twice (albeit more than 10 years ago now) and found it very beneficial both times I went. The first time I went, I can remember coming away thinking I must have a big purpose in me, but ten years later and I’m still none the wiser as to what that is. I’ve also read my fair share of self-help books. Well, I’ve read a few of them cover to cover, others I’ve just dipped in and out of. Some remain firmly unread.

Here is one such article I was reading on Saturday morning by Umair Haque, ‘Three Rules for a Meaningful Life’ which prompted this thinking. It’s not bad advice per se – it’s about finding meaning and the genius within for a happy life. And it’s written from the heart, I’m sure.

But what if there is no meaning, or at least no particular meaning for you? What if you haven’t found that life’s purpose that gets you leaping out of bed in the morning? What if financial or familial responsibilities and circumstance dictate living your life in a different way than one of pursuing your dreams? What if you never had a dream in the first place?

Not everyone is born knowing they want to be an accountant, doctor, mechanic or entrepreneur. I daresay there are few who actually know what they want to do when they grow up but I’m sure it’s not universal. I’ve always felt that people who have always known what they want and are able to pursue that are incredibly lucky. They don’t face years of indecision and worry about whether or not they’re making the right choices in life. That frees them up to, you know, pursue their dream.

I shared this on Facebook on Saturday – you can read and comment on the thread here as it’s public. I couldn’t find the original article I was reading about it being ok to NOT have meaning in your life and to muddle through. I remember when I read it feeling more than a little relief. Not having an over-arching ‘purpose’ has made me feel like I’m missing out or not contributing enough or something and that it was something I should have but don’t and on reading this article, I realised that it’s ok to not have a purpose too or to have great meaning in your life.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. How do you deal with this stuff? Do you have your purpose and meaning sorted out and live your life by it? Is it possible to feel fulfilled and engaged with life without a ‘purpose’? Does it matter?

In lieu of the specific article, I have found some other articles of interest and others have shared theirs and I’ve listed the links below for further reading on the topic.

Online articles (all free to read and in no particular order)

Mark Manson, 7 Strange Questions That Help you Find your Life Purpose.

The Meanings of Life by Professor Roy F Baumeister

The Jam Study Strikes Back. This is fascinating. The gist here is that too much choice of jam on the supermarket shelf results in fewer sales. We only have so much capacity for decision making and when there’s too much choice we become demotivated and end up choosing nothing. I think there’s a lot in this that could relate to our digital lives too. It’s something I’ll have to come back to.

Iona Goulder: Why Trying to Be Happy Makes us Anxious

A History of Happiness – William James

Kali Holloway, The Salon, Wellness is Making us Sick. How Corporate America’s Mantra Leaves us All Feeling Inadequate.

James Clear, Why having no goals in life can make you happier and more successful. TLDR Systems are better than goals.

Kyle Eschenroeder, 5 Reasons why you should stop thinking about purpose in your life. TLDR  ‘those of us who don't have a clearly defined purpose shouldn't let it bother us’.

Anke Holst, A Lesson On Indiscriminate Change (the topic is tackled about half way and continued in the comments)

Book recommendations

The Art of Choosing. The decisions we make everyday of our lives and what they say about us and how we can improve them by Sheena Iyengar

The Tyranny of Choice by Renata Salecl