Finding Meaning and Purpose

Good day, team.


This week’s challenge is about finding meaning and purpose in our work and how that contributes to our overall happiness and sense of well-being.


Over 60 years ago, the famous Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” cited by the Library of Congress as one of the 10 most significant books ever written. In his book, Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be pursued; it ensues as a result of living a life with meaning and purpose. The more directly you pursue happiness, the less likely you are to achieve it. Although pursuing happiness may result in momentary pleasure, it doesn’t lead to an authentic, soul-satisfying happiness that can come from living a life with meaning and purpose.


Frankl taught that people can discover meaning and purpose in three ways: by doing work that matters, by loving others unconditionally and by finding meaning in their suffering. When I read this, I understood the first two, but understanding the third took some time and thinking. In Frankl’s case, he was interned by the Nazis in 1942 and lived in concentration camps for three years. In reading about his captivity, I realized that he survived this horrible ordeal by believing that his life had a purpose and that all of his suffering was not in vain. His survival had everything to do with how he responded to his circumstances. If we suffer and think it’s because our luck has run out, we didn’t get a fair break or someone else has done us wrong, we feel nothing but despair. But if we choose to find meaning in our suffering, we can change our attitude about our difficult circumstances.


Many of us have heard the phrase, “Attitude is everything.” I think in this context, much of what Frankl wrote about illustrates the phrase. Each of us experiences loss and suffering in our lives, and there are many ways we can deal with it. For example, a few years ago, when my business was suffering because of the economic downturn, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue. However, instead of allowing myself to worry, I decided to use my time to study new coaching techniques and take some training courses. When business is good and I’m busy, I don’t have time to take the training that keeps my skills sharp. When I look back now, I realize how smart it was for me to use my time in this way. Instead of allowing depression to creep in and waste my time, I chose to use the time to my advantage. I still worried but not to the extent I would have if I hadn’t chosen to fill my time productively.



What helped me most during this time was the realization that I was able to do some good in the world. I wanted to keep coaching because I could see the value it brings to others. That deeper meaning gives me a sense of purpose. That sense of purpose helps me navigate through the obstacles that always come up when you run your own business and gives me a strong sense of determination to keep going.



This week, ask yourself if the work you do is meaningful? You don’t have to be on a mission to save the world. Each of us does small things every day that contribute to the well-being of others. The trick is to find the meaning in what you do, whatever it is. For example, there’s a dog-walking service down the street from my house and a small park about ½ block in the other direction. Each morning, a woman walks all kinds of dogs past my house down to the park for a run. She always smiles and waves at me when she walks by. One day, I was out on the sidewalk and I asked if I could pet the dog she had on leash. I remarked that I thought she was lucky to have a job working with dogs all day. She told me that she loved it. Although some dogs were pretty challenging, most of them loved going for their daily walks. She said it made her happy to be doing something that brought joy to the dogs. And she was glad to help out their owners, who because of work and other obligations didn’t have time to walk their dogs every day.



I realized that this woman probably doesn’t make much money. But her authentic happiness is easy to see. She loves what she does and finds meaning and purpose in it.



Discover what you do in a day that benefits others. Maybe you work in a financial function for a company and make sure that people get paid every two weeks. Or perhaps you work in a restaurant and enjoy bringing good food to your customers. How about writing computer code that enables others to access better information or redesigning the way something works so it’s easier for others to use? Maybe, like me, you work with people as a coach or a consultant and try to help them maximize their strengths or find better ways to accomplish things.



Stay-at-home parents who spend their days caring for their children, garbage collectors, bank tellers —the work these people do adds value to the lives of others. How we relate to the roles we play in our jobs is up to us. Our attitude toward what we do and our ability to find the meaning and purpose in it determines our happiness.



As Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”



Have a good week!






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