Have you ever wondered what is your purpose in life? What is the meaning of life or even more precisely the meaning of your life? I have recently read a few books on the meaning of life and it made me think about life; purpose, value, meaning and finding my Ikigai (reason to jump out of bed every morning!).
Does life have meaning? Life’s meaning often refers to the value of life. Your existence has a purpose but we all see this purpose differently as we value things very differently. Each of us have a different perception on the purpose and value of life.
Some of us might find the purpose in life as procreating. Our aim is to have children, a happy home, a family and enjoy that familial bliss. Others may see their purpose in career, such as becoming the world’s most renowned scientist, winning a Noble prize, creating a vaccine for Covid-19. The meaning of life comes down to what we hold most dearly in our mind, the value and what is it we want most of out life.
We all know life is short. We spend our childhood learning, our teenage years rebelling (most of us anyway), our twenties trying to find our path and if we are lucky, a fairly good start in our thirties, both career and relationship, embarking into a solid career and familial bliss. Finally, in our forties and fifties, some of us (like me) start questioning ourselves if we have really made the right choices, if we have really lived our lives and if we have a meaning, a purpose in our life? The classic mid-life crisis in other words.
What happened to all the meaning of life we thought we had? Now, let’s look at value, appreciation and gratification. If you are given your favourite toy without asking, you would be happy. Imagine if you have always walked past the window of a toy shop with your favourite toy on display on your way back from school. You know very well that your family can barely afford food on the table, though you want to tell your mother how much you would love that toy for your next birthday, you just can’t because you know they cannot afford it. Each day, you tell yourself, “I will work hard at school, I want to be someone useful when I grow up, and I want a stable job and a stable life..” You worked hard. You even took up a part time job delivering the papers and finally after 3 years, you saved up and bought yourself your favourite toy. How does that feel? That sense of achievement, appreciation and gratification is very different from just being handed a toy that you like. It also makes you treasure it more. It has become even more valuable. This is the meaning of value. Value is not just a figure. Value is proportionate to the experience, the blood, sweat, hard work mixed in with aims, goals, appreciation and gratification.
How do we find meaning in our lives? We all have different meanings in our lives as we go through each stage. So, if you are wondering about your life meaning now, you haven’t lost it. You have just discovered that you have fulfilled your previous meaning to life and are currently embarking on a new journey and perhaps a deeper meaning to life. It is good to reassess, re-evaluate and see life with a new meaning. It shows you have an insight.
Having goals = Meaning of life? So based on what we have discussed, does it mean that having goals are having meaning in life? Well, yes and no. I see goals as the stepping stones to achieving meaning in life. You need these goals to guide you to create that meaning. The meaning is far deeper, more complex but your aims and goals can form the skeletal basis (the atom) of your life meaning. You need to add value, gratification and appreciation alongside your wisdom, your beliefs and your experiences to understand what is the meaning of your life. It is unique to you.
Meaningful vs Meaningless? As we discussed previously, value has a big role to play in the meaning of life. What is meaningful to you may not be meaningful to others, because our life meaning is unique and individualised. Can life suddenly be meaningless just because you are losing? Imagine if you wake up one day and found out that you have been fired from your job. Or you could wake up one day and found out that your partner wants a divorce, breaking up your familial bliss. It is undeniably horrifying but that doesn’t render life meaningless. It is a loss but not a total loss. You will feel low, feel sad, and even feel like life has lost its meaning because you have lost part of your identity. These are life experiences and if we use them correctly and learn from them, it can propel us forward in life to achieve better things. Being fired from that job could lead to a new job. Being divorced could open up a new relationship. Whatever it is, re-evaluate and do not lose hope. The meaning is still there, you only have to believe and not give up.
Life is not plain sailing. We go through tempestuous seas and raging storms storms at times, but this too shall pass. Nothing in life is permanent. Learning about impermanence is vital in finding your life meaning. Everything changes whether we want it to or not. We must learn to adapt or we will end up losing hope, losing beliefs, losing faith and losing ourselves. It is okay to fall, but most importantly, we must learn to pick ourselves up and continue.
A perfectionist sees life differently as the glass is always half empty. I know, because I am one, too. I often find that I give myself and others around me extra pressure because of that perfectionism. I want things done a certain way (of course in my defence, that is the best way!) and I want things done now. Yes, nothing worse than an impatient perfectionist. I tend to see the meaning of life as something difficult that I have to achieve, something I have to show that I can do better than the rest in half the time. Perhaps its the Tiger Mum upbringing, but I feel I must always win, always be the best, the perfect one. So, when it comes to the meaning of life, I often struggle and I feel I have not done enough and could do better, never satisfied.
This is when the Japanese philosophy of simplicity comes in, Wabi-Sabi. This concept teaches us to see the simplicity in life, to be grateful and thankful for simple things, to take time to smell a flower, look up the sky and watch the birds. Open up and let your senses wander. Feel the wind, hear the chirping birds, see the beauty that surrounds you, smell the sea and taste the water (coffee perhaps). Nothing lasts, nothing is perfect, nothing is finished. Appreciation of the beauty and simplicity of little things can help us to see the bigger picture and let that inner perfectionist takes a break. She’s quite tired from all her self imposed rules and pressures.
It is important to accept imperfection. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery; Kintsukuroi or Art of Kintsugai (金継ぎ) also known as golden joinery is all about accepting imperfection, a broken bowl fixed with gold or silver lacquer is whole again, turning it into a beautiful pottery once again. The process usually results in something more beautiful than what it was originally. It is okay to be broken, you have just got to learn to fix it and carry on shining.
I hope this blog has help you to clarify a few things and help you on your journey to rediscover your meaning of life. Find your Ikigai, your reason to wake up everyday. Start off by writing down your values, what you treasure, what you love and build it from there. Everyone has a meaning and a reason to be here, you just have to explore it and spend some time understanding yourself a little more. Life is not about the destination, but the journey. It is the way of life that matters.
Recommended reading list:
- Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
- Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton
- Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World by Iddo Landau