I recently listened to a conversation with Hugh Mackay about how to lead a meaningful life. Hugh Mackay is a social researcher who shares his observations and insights about life. His latest book is Beyond Belief which examines the search for meaning.
What makes a life meaningful?
It is very subjective but there are some generally agreed principles. Perhaps it is best to deal with (eliminate) the things unlikely to yield meaningfulness? It is not gained through a quest to explore the “me” culture. This includes things like materialism and the pursuit of personal happiness and experience.
The happiness fad
Hugh has a particular dislike of the “happiness fad”. He scoffs at the proposition that happiness is the most desirable state for humans. Instead he offers the realisation that we humans have the capacity to experience a full spectrum of emotions of which happiness is but one. These emotions create a context within which each is distinct and provides for all the things that we have to deal with in life.
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~ Dalai Lama
We are herd creatures
Hugh suggests that the essential nature of humans is that we are social creatures – herd animals, tribal creatures. He says we belong in society with each other. Accordingly, we rely on communities to nurture us, sustain and protect us, and it is in our DNA to be cooperative. He claims our true nature is to be cooperative and to live in communities.
Knowing who you are
Hugh reminded us that just like we can only know happiness if we also know sadness, we can only know ourselves through others. As such, identity is a social construct that relies on where we belong and who accepts us. So those people around us – who live with us, love us, work with us, seek out our company – are the ones who will show us our identity.
Finding meaning in life will be related to the social aspect of our lives. Such meaning is gained through the interactions with the significant others in it.
“… the meaning of our lives grows out of the quality of our relationships, the quality of our responses to each other …”
” … happiness is a mostly about taking, meaningfulness … is mostly about giving …“
~ Hugh Mackay, 10 May 2016
Satisfaction in life can be gained when we understand that life’s meaning is a social, relational concept.
What do you believe?
Hugh references the work of Martin Seligman who is often referred to as the founder of the positive psychology movement. Seligman suggests that “a crucial factor for a rich sense of a meaningful life comes from placing our faith in something greater than ourselves”.
What do you believe? What do you place faith in?
I have thought for some time that people need to believe in something. I think it is part of the human condition. To say it is to “rationalise life” makes it sound too certain. Faith is more volitional. It is like it places our trust in a belief system that brings us some psychological solace.
Hugh has come to the conclusion that what is important in not necessarily faith in a religion, a God or a religious practice. Instead he aligns his views with us a social beings. He says we ought to be placing or considering placing our faith in the spirit of loving kindness, reminding us that love, kindness and compassion are the currency of any human life.
Imagine a world of loving kindness
What would happen if people placed their faith in the spirit of loving kindness? What kind of world would we live in? What kinds of relationships would be fostered?
What would happen with refugees? What shape would the political world be in? How would we be dealing with poverty?
What about you? Have you found the key to a meaningful life?