An Ancient Secret to a Meaningful Life

“Since nature intended us to be social creatures, we have duties to our fellow humans.”

William B. Irvine

Two thousand years ago, stoic philosophers knew of something that could contribute to a good and meaningful life. To them, it was obvious. Today, many people fail to make use of the very same principle.

If you choose to follow the stoic’s advice, you can start to experience more meaning in your life. This in turn, can make you more fulfilled, a better performer, and it can even boost your mental and physical health [1].

This is what the stoics knew: They encouraged people to fulfill their social duty; to serve the common good [2].

Meaninglessness in a Connected World

Even though we are more connected than ever, research points to certain drawbacks with it as well [3]. People are experiencing far more loneliness and depression than ever before, and it leaves them in a meaningless state of being.

But how can serving others be a good thing, if connecting has unfortunate consequences?

Well, the answer is that there’s a difference between good and bad connecting. By itself, it is good thing. But the way we increasingly experience it through social media, is typically more harmful than good.

What seems to have happened, is that, instead of taking responsibility for the common good, we have become more concerned with comparing ourselves with the common. And because we’re not used to all this comparison, it makes us feel bad about ourselves, isolated and deprived of meaning.

This is not what the stoics preached.

We have become too focused on ourselves, when we should be focused on what we can do for others.

The Good Life

The stoics believed that in order to live a good life — filled with tranquility — we would need to live life as nature intended it. And by nature, the stoics believed we were social creatures. Consequently, they also believed that we had social duties towards others.

While the stoics recognized that serving others could generate many benefits, such as fame, fortune, appreciation and admiration, the stoics didn’t focus on these outcomes. They simply wanted to serve the common good in order to live a good life; that’s how nature intended it.

How to Serve the Common Good

  • Learn how to take responsibility for yourself. This is priority number one. Because when you first learn to take good care of yourself, you become better equipped to take good care of the interests of others. You’ll also be better at setting boundaries for yourself, and you’ll be more intentional about how you choose to serve others.
  • Think about how you can contribute. Think about the impact you can make in the world, and how you can contribute to the common good. The best way to serve others is to make yourself useful. Develop skills that matter; that benefits everyone.
  • Think of who you can serve. To begin with, you might try to serve your friends, family and your close community. As you further develop and master this level of responsibility, think of how you can begin to serve the larger population. Are there any special groups you can serve better than others? Who could benefit the most from your service?
  • Take on massive responsibility for the common good. Set the highest goal you can conceive of, and make sure to make it self-transcendent — something that is beyond your personal benefit and rather benefits everyone.
  • Take action. Act towards your goal. Or better yet, take action together with someone. Because this way, you’ll be serving others and at the same time be connected in a meaningful way. Involve others in your service, and perform your social duty together.

Conclusion

A meaningful life can be found in taking responsibility. It’s not found in comparing yourself with others. So put your phone down and start to serve the common good. Perform your social duty.

References

  • [1] Park, C. L. (2010). Making sense of the meaning literature: An integrative review of meaning making and its effects on adjustment to stressful life events. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 257–301. doi:10.1037/a0018301.
  • [2] Irvine, W. B. (2009). A guide to the good life. New York: Oxford university press.
  • [3] Bilyeu, T. (2019). How to Quit Social Media and Master Your Focus | Cal Newport on Impact Theory. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROKQHRfh2mA

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