- Meaning can be defined as resonance with one's true nature, or core essence.
- An individual must be aware and fully sense the world in order to find meaning in their life.
- Two things that motivate people most are love and conscience.
In a world that appears to be changing at an ever-increasing rate, it is no wonder that so many people feel lost and stressed. However, it is important to recognize that when we search out and discover the authentic meaning of our existence and experiences, we find that life doesn’t just happen to us. We happen to life, and we make it meaningful.
Above all else, the human quest for meaning is grounded in awareness. It has been said that “it is more important to be aware than it is to be smart.”1 To be aware is to know meaning. To be aware takes time and effort. If our lives are dominated by too many activities or passive preoccupation with television, smartphones, or the internet, we lose out on the meaning that surrounds us. We must be aware and fully sense the world in order to find the meaning in our lives.
There are as many shades of meaning as there are colors. Nobody can determine meaning for someone else; detecting the meaning of life’s moments is an individual pursuit and responsibility. In other words, we cannot find meaning if we don’t bother to look for it, and we can’t or won’t look for it if we are not aware of its potentiality.
In her book The Seeds of Innovation, Elaine Dundon notes that the first step in “transformational thinking,” which she describes as one of the building blocks of innovation, is increasing awareness.2 This includes seeking greater awareness of oneself, of others, and of the environment in which one lives and works. In many ways, this is similar to what in popular parlance has been called “mindfulness”—a form of heightened awareness—although we prefer to build upon this meditative practice with our own concept of meaningfulness.
As Dundon wrote in a post for Psychology Today:
“Meaningfulness encourages us to go further, to transcend to a higher level by connecting with not just our thinking but also with our emotions and, importantly, with our true nature. To know what is meaningful to us, we must discover and embrace our true nature or core essence. Our core essence is what defines us and is at the heart of what makes us a unique human being. It is our core essence that frames our sense of self to help us clarify and understand our purpose, leading to a more joyful and deeply authentic life. Our core essence lies at the deepest origins of our spirit, beyond the cognitive, beyond thinking. Understanding our emotions and our true nature or core essence helps us become more aware or our connections to others, to nature, and to broader universal consciousness.”3
If we open ourselves to being aware of the many possibilities in life, we open ourselves to meaning. Indeed, it is life itself that calls and invites us to discover meaning, and when we live our lives with awareness, we express meaning in everything we do, whether it’s a workout or a work of art. The more aware we are, the more likely we can start to see the patterns in our thoughts, words, and behaviors. In other words, we can start to see patterns in how we deal with challenges in both our work and personal lives.
Among other things, we can start to see patterns in how we deal with our interactions with others. We may, as a result, come to realize that we are attracting the same kind of personal or romantic relationships over and over again, relationships that might be negative or even toxic and therefore not serve our highest good. We may come to realize that we have a habit of wanting to lash out at others or take revenge if they demand too much of us. We may realize that we only like to look at our side of the “story” instead of realizing that there are many sides to the same story or issue.
Similarly, the more aware we are, the more likely we’ll begin to see patterns in how we approach our health. We may realize that we are not expressing our emotions, but instead bottling up anger or resentment, which leads to more stress. We may realize that our weight gain may be a result of stress and not, directly or necessarily, be a result of our diet even if it includes a craving for sweet foods. Research has shown that people are vulnerable to increased cravings for foods containing added sugars if they are exposed to stress over a long period.4
On a fundamental level, the more we become aware of the moments in our life, the more we open ourselves to meaning. Many people define meaning as “significance” or “something that matters.” However, as implied earlier, my colleagues and I define meaning as “resonance with our true nature or core essence.” When something feels significant, when we know that it matters, it is because it resonates with who we truly are. Each meaningful moment or meaningful experience teaches us to seek greater awareness and to live in a way that resonates with whom we believe we are at our core.
Knowing why we think, feel, and do things is essential and, importantly, is the beginning of real freedom and meaning in our lives. If we delve deep enough, we’ll reach the two things that motivate us most: love and conscience. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl described these as intuitive capabilities—that is, things we do without thinking, things that define us at our deepest level. “The truth,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “is that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”5
As your awareness grows, you can start to see patterns in the meaning of each moment. You can string together these insights to see the bigger picture of your life. You can see all of the roads you have taken, all of the stops you have made, all of the people you have encountered, and all of the things you have done or experienced in your life. With greater awareness comes the ability to find deeper meaning in your life.
1. Jackson, P. and Delehanty, H. (1995). Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. New York: Hyperion.
2. Dundon, E. (2002). The Seeds of Innovation: Cultivating the Synergy That Fosters New Ideas. New York: AMACOM Books/HarperCollins.
3. Dundon, E. (2019). “From Mindfulness to Meaningfulness,” Psychology Today, March 31, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-search-meaning-after-age-50…. See also: Pattakos, A. and Dundon, E. (2015). The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.
4. Chao, A., Grilo, C., White, M., and Sinha, R. (2015). “Food Cravings Mediate the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Body Mass Index,” Journal of Health Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 6, pp: 721-729. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6186388/
5. Frankl, V. E. (1992). Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, 4th ed. Boston: Beacon; and Pattakos, A. and Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd ed. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, p. 78.