Leading a meaningful life. Today
Last week we moved to a new city—a big project which always takes up way more time and energy than expected. But I’m really happy with how it turned out.
One thing that saved the day (and my marriage) is having a shared Google Doc to keep track of what needs to be done. I’m always interested in trying out fancy new tools, but a few projects back, I learned that super-simple ones ultimately help me the most.
Another, more personal, lesson: I very much underestimated the emotional aspects of moving with young children—a new place, new neighborhood, new schools.
It was great to have the flexibility to reschedule some stuff so we’d have more time as a family to settle in and explore the area. So that’s us—hope you had a great weekend.
And now on to today’s topic (a big one): leading a meaningful life.
In Steven Johnson’s book Farsighted, I came across a version of this question: Would you rather live forever? Or lead a meaningful life in the time you have?
Johnson shares research that shows we overwhelmingly choose the latter. Living longer isn’t the goal; we know our time is limited. A meaningful life is much more important.
But what is meaningful?
What’s a meaningful life?
That’s a fascinating question with no easy answer. In my book GRIP I talk about meaning and a sense of purpose as what gets you out of bed in the morning. Chapter 5 walks you through exploring your passions, skills, and mission as a way to find your sense of purpose. It’s a good starting point for putting together an answer to this question.
When I wrote that chapter, I read a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, often depicted in the form of a pyramid. The highest level, the top of the pyramid, involves self-actualization.
Maslow’s idea is that once your other needs are met, you can become your best self.
But that scenario takes the act of finding meaning in your life, and makes it into a finish line of sorts, a crowning achievement, something you only get to once you’ve got the rest covered.
That linear way of thinking, where meaning is last in line—the highest good—makes it feel a little unattainable. Also: this setup kills the fulfillment you can get from ordinary things. As if there’s never a deeper layer to, say, hanging the wash out to dry, or getting from A to B, like it’s all just jobs to get done along the way to that BIG & MEANINGFUL stuff.
I see things more like this: Take a cross-section of life, and you’ll find meaning infused throughout.
It’s certainly not a comprehensive model, so by all means, add your own layers. Then go ahead and fill it out.
When I fill out my version, I get something like this:
No need to agonize too much over your answers. Doesn’t matter whether it’s an accurate picture for ever and ever. The main thing is doing the thought experiment and seeing where it takes you.
Why do I find security at the family level so significant? What form might that take? What’s more important for humanity, survival or equality? Does that order make sense? And how do both add to my sense of purpose in life?
Questions like these are the point of this exercise. They get you thinking about where you find purpose and meaning in all aspects of your life, in big things and small.
And while I find the deeper levels somewhat complex, I know my answer to the more surface-level slices will already help me make better choices this week. Hope it helps you, too.
Have a good week,