Jordan Peterson is a known advocate of meaning.
As a psychologist and author, he has spent countless hours pondering this concept, and through doing so, he has developed some interesting views about it.
One of his views is that meaning cannot be created by willpower alone. He says that,
“You can set up the preconditions, you can follow meaning…but you cannot simply produce it, as an act of will.”
I agree. You cannot produce meaning out of thin air. But you can, however, set up the preconditions that allow it to unfold.
You can co-create in its development; the meaningful life is up to you.
The Meaning-Making Mind
Your brain is always running a meaning-making process.
The meaningful experience isn’t something you either have or don’t have, but it fluctuates on a continuum between the states of meaninglessness and meaningfulness.
As Viktor Frankl, another known advocate of meaning said,
“The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.”
This means that the “search for meaning” (a phrase Frankl helped coin), is, in reality, a search for more meaning. And with good reason.
Because the more meaning you feel, the better you will function across the many domains of life. You will be happier, healthier, perform better, and function better socially.
More meaning is always beneficial.
The Preconditions of Meaning
In order to find meaning, you need to interact with yourself and the world. You need to set up the preconditions and find your meaning because of it.
More specifically, you need purpose, significance, and coherence — the preconditions of meaning.
- Purpose: To have purpose means to have goals and a direction in your life. With a sufficient degree of purpose, you feel motivated to pursue the things that are meaningful. A lack of purpose, on the other hand, leads to aimlessness and feelings of being lost.
- Significance: To have significance means to find value, worth, and importance in your life. With enough significance, you’re able to evaluate whether something is meaningful or not and decide which things to focus on. A shortage of it, however, leads to the absence of value and feelings of worthlessness.
- Coherence: To have coherence means to comprehend, have clarity and make sense of your life. With enough coherence, you’re able to understand the things that are meaningful and conduct yourself accordingly. A lack of coherence, on the other hand, leads to chaos and feelings of uncertainty.
Through these conditions, you will find your meaning. It doesn’t really matter which one of them you focus on — as they are all interdependent — but the important thing is that you start.
Here are some suggestions on where to start:
- Set a goal that serves others, and you will have a powerful and significant purpose in your life.
- Focus on building stable relationships, and you will have a coherent structure that produces significance.
- Choose the things that make you happy, and you will feel that your life has significance.
When you begin to interact with these things, notice how it makes you feel. If it feels deeply meaningful, carry on with what you’re doing. If you long after more meaning, simply try something else.
It’s a process. And it’s up to you to develop it.
Live with Meaning
If you want to live a meaningful life, you must realize you’re the one who develops it.
You’re not a passive bystander, but an active participant in its creation.
Don’t wait for meaning to come by itself, because it won’t. Don’t waste your time trying to impose meaning where there’s none, because you can’t.
Develop meaning or waste your life.
Don’t wait any longer.
Set up the preconditions.
Go out and find your meaning.
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