Aaah, yes. The meaning of life! What do the modern day existentialist analysis of Logotherapy and the ancient philosophy of Buddhism tell us about happiness and the meaning of life?
Ultimately that we all want to be happy, and our strongest motivating drivers are our search for meaning and to make a difference wherever we go. Feelings of hopelessness, frustration and sadness are all directly correlated with our perceived lack of meaning. The more value we add to those around us, the more meaning we will experience and the happier we will feel.
So how does one discover the meaning of life?
After hosting more than 25 experiential workshops with Tibetan monks and philosophers in the Himalayas and observing how people in an exile community live with meaning despite desperate circumstances, here are the 7 most salient points that I believe outline what it takes to live a life of meaning.
Attitude to make a difference
As Viktor Frankl, the originator of Logotherapy, said: “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
We may never be free from obligations, issues and responsibilities, but we are always free to decide how we react. We have immense scope of choice regarding what we choose to do, think and how we behave. Yet we sometimes forget that we have the autonomy to decide for ourselves, and not give in to the pressure of compromise or conformity.
Our attitudes have the ability to become pervasive and change into moods that may last a lifetime. And, as we all know, pervasive moods and attitudes manifest in the characters we develop. Between action and re-action is a space where we have the freedom to choose the attitude with which to respond. Most importantly, however, is the intent behind our attitudes. The correct driving intent behind any positive attitude is to help others, do good and make a constructive difference. A very good start to finding the meaning of life.
How great is this quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.”
People who know why they do what they do have the staying power for the long haul and can walk through walls for what they believe in. And if you are connected with a noble sense of purpose, you will enjoy the resilience to keep on going and never give up. Commitment is the discipline to stay the course and knowing why you do so. Your commitment is directly related to how strongly you believe in what you are doing. If you are iffy about what you do, you will fall off the bus.
Scott Fitzgerald said: “Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There’s no other definition of it.”
We all need help and are never quite as alone as we think we are. But it starts with one – you are that one. It’s up to you to take action. If you don’t do it, who will? So often we conform to what we think others may want, or we do what others tell us. And whereas this may be good at times, we need to remain mindful of our inner voice of reason to take the responsibility and do what we are called to.
Marcus Aurelius is quoted in saying; “The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around. That’s all you need to know”.
Impermanence is a fact of life. Change is all around us and by thinking things will stay the same (or will never change) we set ourselves up for disappointment. Sometimes we can affect change, and sometimes we are completely at its mercy. It helps to know when to accept fate and when to stand up and fight. Accepting our fate and choosing to express our free choice are sometimes conflicting energies that put our values to the test. The voice of the mind and the voice of the heart don’t always agree, and we should keep in touch with our inner wisdom to know when to defiantly challenge our obstacles or to accept a situation as it is.
It was Sir Henry Royce, one of the two founders of the Rolls-Royce Company, who said: “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble.”
We all have an inner wisdom to know what is right. Whereas our minds can convince us of the most bizarre things, our inner guide knows what the real story is. Trust yourself, trust life and believe in the goodness of people. Our wisdom of the heart reflects our consciousness for self-transcendence to greater things. Don’t listen to others too much, cut out the external and internal chatter and listen to your intuition. You know. Again, another great step to finding your meaning of life.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Until you have real compassion you won’t recognise love. Without deep-seated feelings of compassion for yourself and life around you, how can you hope to experience love? And before we can hope to give love, we should know what it feels like within ourselves. We all start life with love (in the womb) and love is the creative energy that can help us flourish. We should cultivate feelings of compassion (or living-kindness, as the Tibetans call it) to help us live with more peace and happiness.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: “Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.”
We all know people like that. And we all prefer to be around people who have a sense of humour. Laugh, see the funny side and don’t take yourself so seriously. You are not that important, and yet you are the most important thing there is. Be the person that brings a smile to others and spread some joy. Be the meaning of life for someone else through humour.
These are some of the conversations we have on our journeys to the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, India. Our next trip is from 14 to 24 July 2018. Send a mail to Klasie@streetschool.co.za if you are interested in joining our journey of discovery.