21 Jan January 2022 Newsletter
Hello from Unravel! The new year has picked up its pace and is well into its coldest season. In this newsletter, I would like to share with you some insight about meaning and ways of discovering and cultivating it as part of the RESILIENT HAPPINESS formula. You can refresh the previous components of it by visiting our previous newsletters.
As big as it may sound, I do not believe that there’s a single person on this planet who doesn’t thrive off feeling worthy and meaningful in their environment. We don’t have to understand it or be consciously aware of it to be longing and benefiting from having meaning in life and serving some kind of purpose. However, when the time comes and your expanded awareness brings the question into the light of your conscious attention – it is very helpful to take a moment and explore. “What do I already do in my life that brings me sense of meaning and life satisfaction? Why do I need meaning? How does meaning affect me? What even IS meaning and how it might be different for me compared to everyone else?” You might be pleasantly surprised with some of the answers you could already hold.
There are so many ways to define meaning that it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one or two “best” definitions of meaning. After all, “meaning” can have a different meaning for everyone! For the purpose of this article though, I would like to share with you a thread that seems to be highlighted by most of the different theories and researchers across centuries. This thread is beautifully outlined by renown author and professor of literature Joseph Campbell:
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
Perhaps “best” questions to ask would be not about WHERE to find meaning but HOW to create it.
There are as many unique ways to make meaning as there are people in the world, but there are some useful categorisations to better understand the most common processes. The following four important distinctions between meaning-making processes have been identified and studied by modern scientific research:
Automatic vs. Deliberate
Meaning-making can be either automatic or deliberate; an individual can engage in meaning-making unconsciously, without even being aware of it, or they can deliberately engage in the process to make meaning out of their situation.
Automatic meaning-making happens when, for example, a person experiences a stressful event and they have intrusive and unwanted thoughts of the event pop up. While this experience is not a pleasant one, it may actually help the person to make sense of their stressful event and find meaning in their suffering.
Deliberate processes can be engaged in several different ways, including coping activities. People who actively practice these coping activities use positive reappraisal, reflect and revise their goals and seek solutions to their problems, or activate spiritual beliefs and experiences to help them survive and grow from their difficult experiences. Deliberate ways of creating meaning often evolves from recognising, enhancing and reinforcing person’s automatic coping strategies.
Assimilation vs. Accommodation
When a person has encountered a stressful event and their global meaning does not match their appraised meaning of the situation, something has to change. That change can occur in their global meaning (understanding of the world), their appraised meaning of the situation (a change in how they interpret the stressful event), or both.
When an individual changes the situational meaning to be more in line with their global meaning, they are using assimilation. When the individual changes their global meaning to make room for this new situation that doesn’t “fit” with their current understandings, they are using accommodation.
It was generally thought that individuals used assimilation more since it did not require them to change their overall beliefs. However, in the face of huge, life altering events accommodation may be the best way of adapting one’s meaning.
Searching for Comprehensibility vs. Searching for Significance
This distinction is made between the attempt to make an event “fit” with a certain system of rules and standards, and the attempt to find significance, value, or worth in an event.
For example, a person who has suffered a tragic loss may search for comprehensibility by reminding herself that terrible things often happen to good people. Alternatively, she could search for significance by wondering what impact the loss will have on her life, and how it will change who she is as a person (Park, 2010).
Cognitive vs. Emotional
Cognitive processes are those which focus on processing the information from the stressful event and re-evaluating or reworking one’s beliefs. Emotional processing is more focused on experiencing and exploring one’s emotions about the stressful event. These emotions must be absorbed and processed before the individual can continue on with their life (Park, 2010).
Benefits of creating meaning
- The sense of having “made sense,” or come to an understanding of why the stressful event happened (even if the “why” is simply “shit happens”).
- Acceptance, or coming to terms with the event.
- Reattributions and causal understanding or coming to a conclusion about the cause of the event.
- Perceptions of growth or positive life changes.
- Changed identity/integration of the stressful experience into one’s identity.
- Reappraised meaning of the stressor or bringing the experience in line with one’s current global meaning.
- Changed global (or overall) beliefs about the way things are in the world.
- Changed global (or overall) goals, such as abandoning unattainable goals or creating alternative goals.
- Restored or changed sense of meaning in life
4 ways to cultivate meaning in your life:
- Control your perception/mindset of life. Keeping a healthy mindset, mental and emotional health is the baseline for feeling content and satisfied with your life. Learn and upgrade your system as often as you can so it serves you best.
- Find things bigger than yourself. Believing and appreciating a bigger picture can always help putting things into perspective and focus on what matters.
- Surround yourself with love. Love is not only something that you get, it’s something that blossoms and rewards even more when it’s given away. Practice active kindness through your actions and savour the rewarding positive emotions.
- Creating a purpose. Reflect and reset your life goals and purpose whilst checking in with your values and priorities in life. Life is CHANGE and so we need to keep up with it by exploring and adapting our beliefs and ways we use to fulfil our purpose.
I hope you enjoyed this subject as much as I did researching it. Please share your thoughts or questions you might have about any of the concepts we’ve explored.
Have fun connecting with and creating more meaning in your life!
*Most of the information in this newsletter was drawn and adapted from www.positivepsychology.com