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What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose

“What is the meaning of life?” is one of the most fundamental and enduring questions which has captivated the greatest minds of mankind for centuries.

The answers, as varied as they come, go back to the very, very beginning of things—to our existence, to the reasons why humans were created, to our quest for self-improvement, and, of course, to religion.

There is hardly a shortage of interpretations of what the “good life” is about, what makes us happy and fulfilled, and what we can do to get to this coveted state.

If you talk to a scientist—say, a physicist and biologist, about the purpose of our being, they will likely tell you the fascinating story of the Big Bang, the origins of universe’s existence, and the evolution of the species to where we are today.

But evolution is not what really drives us and makes us to want to keep living and persisting through life’s adversities, is it? It is a whole lot more than this. It is what makes us human—our minds, our sense of self-awareness, our ambitions, dreams and goals.

So, when you ruminate on your reasons for being, you should actually think along the lines of your values, progress, community, family, and, yes—reproduction.

What Wise Men Through History Believed a Life of Purpose to Be

Before we unpack these elements of meaning, let’s take a step back and see what wise men through history believed a life of purpose to be.((Wikipedia: Meaning of Life))

The Greeks

The ancient Greeks believed in the concept of “eudamonia” which translates as “happiness” or “welfare.” All the great Greek philosophers—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle— believed that the good life means to live in a state of eudaimonia. The interpretations of what it means vary. Some used to think that purpose can be found in acquiring virtues (as self-control, courage, wisdom).

Aristotle, for instance, believed that eudaimonia required not only a good character, but taking actions and achieving excellence. Epicurus—another prominent Greek—understood the good life as one of pleasure and freedom from pain and suffering.

Cynicism

The famous Greek school of thought believed that the purpose of life is living a life of Virtue which agrees with Nature. The happy life is the simple one, they taught—free from possessions, rejecting the desires for wealth, possessions, fame or sex. Rather, people should undergo rigorous training and live in a most natural to them way.

Stoicism

The Stoic school of thought, found by Zeno of Citium around 300 B.C. considered the good life to be “living in agreement with nature.” Stoicism advocates doing good while staying calm, focusing on what’s important and under our control, not wasting thoughts on what we can’t affect.

Happiness is:

“found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.”

Theism

Theists believed in the existence of a deity—a God, who created the universe. Our life’s purpose, then, is aligned with God’s purpose in creating the universe and it is God that gives our lives meaning, purpose and values. Without Him, life will be empty.

Existentialism

According to this 20th century philosophy, supported by famous minds as Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, all human beings have free will. It’s believed that each person gives meaning to their own life, not the society or religion. Therefore, everyone’s purpose is unique and subjective to their circumstances and understanding.

Or, simply put, our lives’ meaning is what we decide it to be.

What Creates Meaning for Your Life?

Based on the above brief walk through history, it seems that the interpretation of what infuses our existence with meaning and purpose somewhat varies depending on the historical period and the school of thought.

But undeniably, there are still some commonalities and recurring ideas. Our reason for being emerges as something greater than ourselves—such as serving God’s will or contributing to society. At the same time, it’s all nuanced because it’s refracted through our individual prisms.

Still, the things that may be good candidates for meaning-creators in our lives can be separated in few main categories, as I wrote recently :

Social

As human beings are social creatures, we have an innate need to connect to others, to be part of a group, to sense that we belong, and that we have someone who cares about us.

According to the longest study on happiness and life satisfaction((Ted Ideas: 4 lessons from the longest-running study on happiness))—which spanned over 75 years, the good life lies in the quality of our relationships. “Time with others,” Prof. Waldinger, who led the research tells us, “protects us from the bruises of life’s ups and downs.”

But it’s not only our friendships that make life worth living. It’s our families, children, siblings. It’s all the people who we feel love and affection for and who, in turn, give us theirs.

Achievement

Although tying our worth solely to the outcome of our endeavors can create an unstable sense of self-esteem, we still want the net of our successes to outnumber that of our failings. We want to sense that we are moving forward, progressing, realizing our goals. Studies have found that achievements bring greater meaning to our everyday lives.((J Pers.: Relationships between meaning in life, social and achievement events, and positive and negative affect in daily life.))

And it’s not the lure of the limelight or the desire for kudos that will make our existence worthwhile. It’s the recognition of our efforts, the appreciation, the acknowledgement that counts. In other words, we want our actions to matter and make a difference.

Competence, Knowledge and Expertise

These purpose-drivers are closely linked to the concept of achievement.

Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner, best known for his principle of attachment, once said:

“Life itself is a process of acquiring knowledge.”

Becoming the best at what we do is a large part of the self-improvement movement today. It’s perhaps most famously expressed in the Japanese notions of kaizen and shokunin. Kaizen is the process of continuous improvement—through leaning and gaining expertise, to better ourselves. It’s a way of life.

Shokunin means craftman. And it’s about taking pride in what we do and in ourselves. It’s the drive to become better—personally and professionally.

How to Craft Your Own Meaning of Life

In reality, though, there are many more shades and understandings of a life well-spent than the three categories listed above.

Here are some further ideas on where to look for your own sense of purpose and fulfillment.

1. Be aware of what makes you happy

This includes your passions, the desire for connecting to others, for reading, writing, travelling, staying in shape. These activities that you enjoy, although they may not give you The One Meaning of your life, still carry a great potential to make you fulfilled and happy.

They are spurs of joy. You can call them mini-meanings, which, over time, may contribute to your bigger goals and purpose.

But today, they will still offer you something to look forward to, a reason to wake up in the morning. And who’s to say “no” to this?

2. Reproduction

Evolutionary biology provides us with the very primal reason behind our existence on Earth as humans—to ensure that the human race doesn’t become extinct. That is, meaning comes down to survival and continuance of our kin.

In this vein, having children and family is often at or near the top spot when people talk about what makes life worth living. This is also liked to our basic need to belong, to have someone to share our successes with, to have a shoulder to cry on, to care about.

3. Desire to leave a mark in the world

With the realization of the transience of our lives comes a natural desire to create something of value to leave to the world, to matter in some way, to make a difference.

We all have the capacity to influence others’ lives—some on a smaller scale than others, true, but regardless—it’s the intention and the actions that matters. You can begin with one small thing—whatever it is that matters to you and build on it.

For instance, you like animals. Adopt a puppy—give them a better life. You can also volunteer at your local food shelter, or start separating your garbage to help the planet.

It is as Mother Teresa once said:

“We can do no great things, but small things with great love.”

A meaningful life is about caring.

How to Lead a Meaningful Life

1. Be compassionate and care about yourself

Per research by the British National Health Service in 2014, there are five steps we can take to lead more meaningful lives:((British National Health Service: Five steps to mental wellbeing))

  • Connect with community and family
  • Physical exercise
  • Lifelong learning
  • Giving to others
  • Mindfulness of the world around you.

What these recommendations imply is that what brings sunshine into our lives is finding the ways to care about ourselves and to do what makes us feel good.

There is barely a need to convince you of the benefits of giving and meditations—these are well established—to both our physical and mental health.

Being kind, compassionate and help others are, indeed, the winning behaviors to an increased longevity, decreased stressed and depression. So that we can also experience life in all its colourfulness.

2. Make yourself useful

According to Darius Foroux —a famous entrepreneur, author and influencer, the meaning of life is not to seek happiness, but to make ourselves useful.((Darius Foroux: The Purpose of Life))

“It comes down to this — what are you DOING that’s making a difference?”

Rather than seeking happiness and meaning through the material things, we must engage in acts of usefulness—to help and make others happy, to create something.

“The last thing I want is to be on my deathbed and realize there’s zero evidence that I ever existed.”

3. Connect with the world

Another influencer—Alain de Botton, the founder of the famous blog The School of Life, believes that the meaning of life comes down to three activities:((The Book of Life: What Is the Meaning of Life?))

  • Communication
  • Understanding
  • Service

“Some of our most meaningful moments are to do with instances of connection,” he writes, be it to a person, song or a book, for instance. It takes us out of our isolation. Understanding is our ability to make sense of the world. And service is to work on improving others’ lives.

4. Use the PURE model

Finally, Peter Wong—a Canadian existential psychologist, has proposed a model, known as PURE for individuals to discover meaning in their lives:((Peter Wong: Existential Positive Psychology))

  • P stands for purpose and having worthy goals.
  • U denotes understating—of who we are and of the world around us.
  • R means that we have sole responsibility to choose the life we want and to own our actions and their consequences.
  • E is the need for evaluation, to ensure we are on track with our goals.

Therefore, as you can summon, there are many avenues you can explore that will bring you a sense of purpose. It’s true that you may sometimes feel that your actions are just a drop in the ocean, that you are too small to make a difference.

But it’s not true.

Meaning is about bringing out the best in you, about doing good by yourself and others. And if we all commit to the goal of improving ourselves and the world we live in—as cliché as it sounds—and we truly believe it, then collectively—the single drop can grow up to become a wave.

Now it’s your turn to fill in the blank:

There Is More to Life Than ____________

Summing It All Up

The quest for meaning in our lives is perhaps the most important driver behind everything that we do. It’s the reason behind all reasons.

Some of the most prominent ways to build your purpose is by creating your own tribe; by striving to become a better version of yourself; by helping and serving others, and by setting goals and striving to achieve them.

What makes it challenging to put our finger on what purpose means exactly is that it’s a rather vast concept. It can be interpreted as many things by each one of us.

But then, maybe, there is no One and Only Meaning in life. Perhaps a better way to view our purpose and existence is more as a mosaic—each experience, each facet in our lives—family, friends, achievements, recognitions—constitutes a piece. You have to look at it in its totality to be able to say if you are happy with the picture you yourself have painted.

Or, perhaps, it is as Viktor Frankl said:

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

And each of us has the freedom to decide on what this is.

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Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max

In today’s complex and ever changing society, it is almost impossible not to feel anxious and stressed at some point of your life. Stress and anxiety have become a fact of life for us all, and we all have to deal with the negative impact that stress can cause in our lives.

Stress is not something that suddenly enters into your life overnight. Stress slowly grows over time and it gets worse when you choose not to do anything about it.

“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” — Andrew J. Bernstein

The consequences of not dealing with the unpleasant aspect of stress can be fatal to your mental, physical and overall wellbeing. There is, however, hope. There are ways in which you can minimize and control the negative impact stress can have in your life.

Once you understand what your stress triggers are and what anxiety coping mechanisms work best for you, you are then well on your way to managing anxiety and stress levels in your life.

The Impact of Stress and Anxiety

There has been an overwhelming amount of research done on the topic of stress and anxiety. For example there has been research done on; which gender is more stressed, which age group suffers the most stress, which country is the most stressed, which workplaces create high levels of stress, what are the triggers of stress, what is the cost of stress to the government and public health system and the list goes on.

What all this research highlights is that stress is universally well understood and experienced by many.

The problem, however, is that despite all this research and the fact we all know, stress is an unpleasant fact of life we in the western world are not very good at dealing with stress.

Because we are so bad at dealing with stress, we now face what many consider a crises point where stress is now one of the major causes that leads to the most lethal illnesses and long term health problems — high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and insomnia are all medical conditions that can be related to or directly influenced by high levels of stress.

The Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work

These 5 strategies will enable you to manage the levels of stress in your life and avoid the detrimental impact stress and anxiety can have on your life – physically and mentally.

1. Know the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Unknown

Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is key to you reducing the impact of high levels of stress in your life.

Stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress. If we are constantly exposed to high levels of stress, then our anxiety will increase.((Health Status: How Is Anxiety Different From Stress?))

We all have very different in built coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety. What is stressful to one person may not necessarily stressful to another.

The symptoms we experience when anxious are often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. This comes from the idea that people primarily experience anxiety to help them either fight or run away from danger.

For example, if you saw a burglar, two options open to you would be to either – fight them off (fight) or try to run away (flight). Our fight or flight response would kick in to help us at this point.

The problem is that in today’s complex world, we are constantly exposed to disruption and change. Because we live more stressful lives, our body and our minds have not yet caught up to these changes. As a result, we now experience anxiety in situations where it is not necessarily as helpful because we cannot fight or run away from them (e.g. work or financial pressures).

2. Learn How to Challenge Your Unhelpful Thoughts

The way that we think about things has an impact on our anxiety levels. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful.

It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts.

Challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions:

  • Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
  • What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
  • How will I feel about this in 6 months time?
  • Is there another way of looking at this situation?

Try to apply these questions to the unhelpful thoughts that you notice. It can help to reduce your anxiety levels. You can use this technique to test that your thoughts are realistic and balanced.

3. Learn How to Become a Solution Seeker

It is often hard to solve a problem when you are so immersed in the emotion of the problem. One way to deal with the problems you face and ease your stress levels is to to follow these three steps:

  1. Identify what the problem is and write it down
  2. Come up with a list of potential solutions and write them down
  3. Select the best solution from your list and then test it out. See how it goes and if it does not work pick another solution.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King

I like this quote from Martin King. It highlights that by just taking one step, you are moving closer toward finding the solution to your problem. It is all about taking one step at a time – that is what solution seekers do.

4. Limit The Time You Spend Worrying

Anxious people tend to spend much of their time worrying. Sometimes they worry to the point that they find it very hard to ‘switch off’ and relax.

Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about feeling stressed and anxious is the seemingly uncontrollable worry that often occurs alongside it.

Therefore, if you can reduce the amount of time you spend worrying, you can reduce your anxiety levels.

To reduce the time you spend worrying, assign yourself a “limited” time like 10 minutes a day to allow yourself to worry. Any worries that pop into your head during the day, write them down. Then forget them until your assigned worry time. Usually it’s best to do this later in the day.

‘Worry time’ not only helps to reduce the time you spend worrying, but also proves that you can have more control of whether you engage in worry or not.

You may also find this guide useful:

How to Stop Worrying About the Future: 8 Practical Techniques

5. Learn How to Relax and Commit to It

It is important to make time to relax and do activities that are enjoyable. This can help to reduce your anxiety levels by calming the body and mind. It can also help you to sleep.

Without taking the time to unwind, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Good examples might be reading a book or having a bath.

What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you enjoy and look forward to doing. Exercise is particularly effective at helping you to relax. Research has shown that if you are constantly active you are far more effective at managing your levels of stress.

Learning how to control your breathing is simple technique that can be particularly helpful if you feel dizzy or light headed when you are worried or stressed. This sometimes happens because people’s breathing changes and gets quicker when they feel distressed. This can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience.

Learning controlled breathing exercises can help you to manage these feelings more effectively. It can also help to give your mind and body a chance to calm down.

“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” — Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Tension often builds up when we feel upset or stressed. These symptoms can be painful and can cause anxiety in themselves.

Muscular relaxation exercises can help you to control such unpleasant symptoms. They can reduce physical tension and help you to relax in general. Yoga, massage and meditation are great activities to help your body and your mind relax.

6. Get to Know Yourself and Connect with Others

For me, this is the most important anxiety coping mechanism. I have put it last because if you fail to commit to any of the other five strategies, COMMIT TO THIS ONE.

It is this coping mechanism that will form a solid foundation for you to successfully manage the stress levels in your life.

Get to know you and accept who you are warts and all. Our anxiety and stress levels increase when we worry about what we are not achieving or what we are failing at. If we give ourselves permission that it is okay not to be “perfect” all the time, our anxiety and stress levels are more manageable.

“I just give myself permission to suck. I find this hugely liberating.” — John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

Sharing your fears and anxiety with people who you are connected to will help you face your fears and deal with your problems. Although you might feel embarrassed or afraid to discuss your feelings with others, sharing can be a way to cope with a problem. And having someone to listen to you can help you feel supported.

When you feel supported, you are more likely to do the things you want or need to do by breaking the cycle of constant avoidance. The chances are the reality of the situation won’t be as worse as you expect, making you better equipped to manage, and reduce your anxiety.

Final Thoughts

The 6 anxiety coping mechanisms are tools to help you manage the stress levels in your life.

If you decide to try out these strategies, be prepared for it to feel uncomfortable and that change will not happen over night.

Keep trying and do not give up. Dig deep to find your faith to be a solution seeker who is always looking to create a present and future where you can live life to the fullest.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency.” — Natalie Goldberg

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Steve Carell describes finally meeting Kelly Clarkson after *that* ’40-year-old Virgin’ scene

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When Steve Carell’s character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin is getting ready to start dating, he gets his chest waxed. And during that wax, he inexplicably screams out “Kelly Clarkson!”

Carell told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that he had never met Kelly Clarkson until recently, and that he was very nervous about her feelings towards that slightly awkward shout out in the 2005 hit comedy. 

“I thought she’d be mad about me about that,” Carell said. “Like, ‘is he making fun of me?'”

Turns out, Kelly Clarkson was very nice about it.  Read more…

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Check out thousands of courses for under £10 with Udemy’s Black Friday UK sale

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It may feel like you are dangerously close to perfection, and you couldn’t possibly squeeze out any more personal development.

It may feel that way but let’s be honest for a moment, it’s probably not true. You might be great at many things, but you can always be better, and you can always learn new things, however old and wise you are. Every day is a school day.

With the world’s largest selection of courses, Udemy is a good place to start if you are searching for some personal development. You can choose from over 80,000 online video courses with new additions published every month, with a variety of fresh topics, expert instruction, and lifetime access available to participants.  Read more…

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Why we never forget how to ride a bike

There’s scientific truth to the saying that you never forget how to ride a bike. Even if you can’t remember phone numbers, birthdays, or where the hell you parked your car, it’s likely that even if you haven’t been on a bicycle in decades, you can climb on and ride away just fine. Why? Neuropsychologist Boris Suchan of Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum lays it out as best we know in Scientific American:

As it turns out, different types of memories are stored in distinct regions of our brains. Long-term memory is divided into two types: declarative and procedural.

There are two types of declarative memory: Recollections of experiences such as the day we started school and our first kiss are called episodic memory. This type of recall is our interpretation of an episode or event that occurred. Factual knowledge, on the other hand, such as the capital of France, is part of semantic memory. These two types of declarative memory content have one thing in common—you are aware of the knowledge and can communicate the memories to others.

Skills such as playing an instrument or riding a bicycle are, however, anchored in a separate system, called procedural memory. As its name implies, this type of memory is responsible for performance…

According to one idea, in the regions where movement patterns are anchored fewer new nerve cells may be formed in adults. Without this neurogenesis, or continuous remodeling in those regions, it’s less likely for those memories to get erased.

Why Don’t We Forget How to Ride a Bike?(SciAm)