Day 15. Meaningful is the new happy

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On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.
Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
VICTOR HUGO

I keep thinking about this quote whenever I realise I’m part of a shift that’s going through the collective consciousness. We’re going through quite a few at the moment (how long has feminism been part of pop culture, and is it over soon?), including the one that’s currently fuelling this blog: the search for meaning.

Some years ago, everybody wanted to be happy. There are tons of books out there about how to be happy, how to use positive thinking, all that. Then, the criticisms started popping up – being “happy” is an ephemeral state and such cannot be the end goal; trying to be “happy” all the time will make you anxious with all the pressure; life throws shit at you on a constant basis, and being “happy” throughout all of it is a ridiculous goal to aspire to.

What I see more and more now is this word: meaning.

“We are not equipped for the 21st century,” Ruby Wax once said. “Evolution did not prepare us for this. We just don’t have the bandwidth[.]” What we’re seeing currently, I think, is people realising this, and trying to adapt. In her book The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith writes that according to research, the wealthiest countries these days have the highest suicide rates. The wealthiest countries (the ones that should be the happiest) also have the lowest rates of meaning. She also touches on research that has shown that people who have a reason to get up in the morning (and that might be as small as a pot plant in a nursing home bedroom that needs watering) are more resilient and take better care of themselves. As a result they are at lower risk for certain diseases and, in the end, live longer.

I see it in the rising popularity of minimalism and mindfulness; there is an ever-growing trend to declutter our lives and make space for the things that are really important to us. Consumerism hasn’t worked; it’s not making us happy, or fulfilled, but isolated and constantly yearning for some vague concept of “more”, and more and more people seem to be tuning into that idea and are looking for other ways to make their lives meaningful. “Finding a purpose” is becoming more and more important.

Like many others, I have a history of mental illness. I’ve always struggled very hard with the question of my place in this life; for a long time I believed I had no place at all. As I’m getting older and slowly settling into the concept that I am here, so I might as well make something of it, it’s only time that I take a step back and look at what it actually is I can contribute. (In an earlier draft of my first blogpost this month I said “It’s been two months of 2017 and I’m not pulling my weight”, and that’s what this has been about all along.)

I finished The Power of Meaning yesterday and can absolutely recommend it: it explores four pillars of meaning – belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence – in a highly readable and relatable way, full of stories that left me optimistic, hopeful and thinking.

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