Are You Searching for Meaning? Here's What You're Doing WrongNone By Homaira Kabir
When my children were little, we would spend many winter afternoons in the warmth of our local library immersed in the magical world of books. One particular series that my oldest, 11 at the time, and I would enjoy together was called “Dear Canada”. Even though it was aimed at preteen girls, I too was mesmerized by the intimate worlds of young girls throughout different times in Canadian history.
What struck me most was how fundamentally different their lives were to ours. Aside from the obvious difference of food, clothing and shelter, I often wondered at their ability to overcome daily hardships and unforeseen disasters through strength of character and a spirit of "giving" that’s a natural part of collective living.
Today, and especially in the Western world, our lives are largely free from such challenges, and are ours for the making. We’re pretty disconnected from the pains and struggles of others, and quite content in pursuing our own happiness. And while this increased autonomy is generally a step forward in how Harvard professor Robert Kegan defines adult development, something seems to have gone amiss.
Our advancement has come with a certain malady of our times. We’ve been able to satisfy our wants and needs, and yet our rates of depression continue to climb. Without the daily grind that was once a part of our lives, we’ve fallen prey to the restlessness and negative self-talk that result from boredom.
This is because depression, in the words of psychologist Iain McGilchrist, is a soul sickness, and no amount of pleasure-filled activities can fulfill the needs of a brain looking for meaning. Nor can this emptiness find recourse in consumerist addictions that are but a compulsive search for meaning-in-a-bottle.
It is perhaps this search that is at fault. Michael Steger, a researcher at Colorado State University, has found that searching for meaning is not the same as finding meaning. Like happiness, the search comes with a plethora of expectations that often lead to the opposite experience. Meaning, like happiness, is found in doing the things that are part of a meaningful life. There’s no pharmacology of meaning. And perhaps our previous generations knew that.
Use Your Strengths
Research in positive psychology has found that meaning emerges when we use our highest strengths in the tasks we do. When daily life doesn’t provide us with many challenges, we need to set