We’ve talked a little bit about self-actualizing versus a purpose-driven live versus a meaningful life. I discovered a book that does a good job of explaining their relationship to one another: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith.
According to the author, purpose is what you’re driven to do—your mission in life. Meaning is the reason why it’s important to you, why you must do it. Self-actualization is fully using your talents, skills, and abilities, as well as delving deeper to discover the hidden treasures within. It’s by these attributes working together that one builds a life that matters, where the person feels that he/she is making a difference in the world.
This thought of leading a purpose-driven and meaningful life seems daunting. We think of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and other notable and famous people involved in great humanitarian works.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the librarians at the town library is well past retirement age yet she’s compelled to keep working at the library. She delights in introducing patrons to new authors or book genres; it makes her feel good to help patrons select books that can comfort them or increase their knowledge or improve their lives. She derives a lot of satisfaction from her job.
It isn’t always easy for her. Sometimes patrons can be a pain in the neck, other times it’s the library board and the hair-brained ideas they want implemented, and then there’s the town with their unending pressure to reduce expenses…. In spite of these challenges and annoyances, she’s happy. She feels useful and that her life matters because she’s helping others enrich their lives. She has a purpose—a reason to get out of bed in the morning; she’s making a difference.
The librarian’s renown is nowhere near that of Mother Teresa’s, however, the librarian is living as rich, as rewarding, and as meaningful of a life as Mother Teresa did.
I also know of a woman who has a lovely garden every year. She derives a lot of satisfaction and happiness from selecting the right plants for a particular area, coordinating the colors and the blooming times of the flowers she plants so that there’s always something blooming in her garden. It’s only her family and a few neighbors seem to benefit from the results of her labors—she isn’t a member of the garden club, she doesn’t participate in competitions or enter her garden into the annual house and garden tours. But she’s fulfilled and content—her life has meaning and direction. And joy.
Every year, a local father-daughter team has a booth at our local Village Fair Days where they sell their handcrafted birdhouses. Their little business started out as the father’s desire to reconnect with his daughter who was grown with a family of her own. He remembered times he and his daughter fed the birds at home when she was a child and, one thing led to another, and they now have this little business of making delightfully whimsical birdhouses.
Whether they make a lot of money or not is beside the point. The point is that they’ve reconnected by rekindling their love of birding. And, they now get to share that interest and love with other fathers, daughters, sons, and mothers. They have meaning, direction, sharing, enjoyment, and lots of love in their lives.
When you think of your own life and how to make it meaningful, don’t think you have to “go big or go home”. You can be like the librarian, my friend the gardener, and the father-daughter team and keep your efforts local.
Are there small ways you can add meaning and purpose to your life? Feel free to share in the comments below. Thanks! Tomorrow we’ll talk a little more about ways to add meaning into your life right here and right now.
Your Friend and Pep Pal,