Are there reliable ways to create lasting purpose or meaning? You bet. We need to begin by paying attention to one of the great discoveries of late 20th century cognitive psychology or in simpler terms: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”

We need to ask ourselves: Does the meaning in our life come from things, experiences or other consumable? Or does it come from the more intangible side of life and living. Science has shown that our brain is unique in its singularity as a whole but its distinct two “halves” and their functions. This “split brains” concept has demonstrated that our linguistic facility and logical analysis—everything that academics hold dear—are localized in the left hemisphere. The right half of our brain is driven by the abstract, the imaginary, the more creative aspects of life.

But here is whats important – The right half gives the left half something to assess, to apply itself “to” while the left half provides a “application” for the right half ‘s musings. This is greatly simplified but you get the jest.

Sometimes we just have a communication breakdown or dominance of what side over the other. When this occurs it is basically the the brain groping for answers. In a nutshell it is the brains struggle with meaning. It has been determined that we associate finding meaning in life with four main conscious ideas:

Purpose – Present events draw meaning from their connection to future outcomes—objective goals and subjective fulfillment.

Values: Beliefs that can justify certain courses of action.

Efficacy: The belief that one can make a difference.

Self-worth: Reasons for believing that one is a good and worthy person

Where are the positive emotions in all this? To see meaning as due to purpose, values, self-esteem is to judge the brain book by its cover. Positive emotions are the engines that drive meaning. The positive emotions that create meaning are love, compassion, hope, awe, gratitude, trust and joy. 

Experiencing and giving love ignites the sense of our own efficacy as no belief in self-importance can. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self”. Attachment and compassion create positive satisfaction and the sense of fulfillment. But such meaning is emotional and based on limbic valence and salience, not cortical purpose and values. 

Despite the promise of the Western Enlightenment to liberate the individual from the dominance of community, as the lives of many a celebrity or Wall Street leader illustrate, there is little lasting meaning in achieving self-worth. The essence of finding meaning is not to think more (or less) of ourselves but to think of ourselves less. The essence of meaning is not what we admire in ourselves, but what others love about us.

Peace and Love, Jim

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