Many people I know seem to underestimate the importance of living a meaningful life and how it contributes to happiness and mental well-being. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and former president of the American Psychological Association, considers the Meaningful Life to be one of the key factors towards the cultivation of happiness and life satisfaction. He distinguishes it from what he calls the Good Life (life of engagement, flow) and the Pleasant Life (life of enjoyment, leisure time, hobbies, relationships).
What does it mean to have a meaningful life? How does having one serve our interests?
Does it mean we have to be religious or spiritual? Not necessarily. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, since it is something we can only define for our self anyway. We can search for the meaning in things, but that is not nearly as fun or productive as when we create it.
Art, film, music, dance, photography – these all give us a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. It’s not always achieved rationally either. In fact, a fulfilling life needs to transcend rationality if we want it to truly flourish. We need to let go of our busy thinking and just define our moments as we live them. What better way to interpret life, to add meaning, than to express it through our creativity?
Be creative. Let yourself flow with ideas.
Than execute them. Put them into action. Don’t be afraid to tweak things and always build on your skill. It will never be perfect but that is not the point. Perfection doesn’t exist, there is no line to cross and get to a point that we can call “perfection”, there is only infinite growth. Even the best of guitarists today are always practicing and building on their skill.
By pursuing these activities we are simultaneously building Seligman’s Meaningful Life (life of purpose) and Good Life (life of engagement).
If we get good enough we may even have the opportunity to profit off of our creations. Why not if we have the chance? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic thing to be able to make a living and a career out of something you really enjoy?
Not all of us are that lucky but still a pursuit of a meaningful life is something that can serve more than just our economic interests. It serves a deeper interest, you can even call it a part of our core, that is even more likely to make us happy.
Some economic interests are of course crucial for survival and comfort, but they cannot give us complete happiness. That is something we can only define for ourselves, in our own mind. We have to act it out of our own free and creative will.
The Meaningful Life is referring to a kind of activity. This means it requires time. You must have time to pursue something creative from both your heart and mind, not simply live your life as a producer or machine.
The most common ways we find meaning in life is through consuming entertainment like books, TV, videogames, music, and sports. These are fine ways to build a joyous life, even necessary. But from my perspective, and perhaps this is true for many others, we need to dig into life deeper in order to build a more everlasting and permanent life satisfaction. There is no better way to do this than to express the ideas in one’s mind.
Artistic expression, beginning with the mind and than translated into action through our body, is simultaneously a reflection of life and a part of life itself. It is the best method of building a meaningful and personal life – what I personally would call spirituality, or the way we come to define our Self/World relationship. Pursuing a means to express yourself may even be seen as more superior than following a religious tradition. It puts you into a position of power over your worldview. You become the painter and the world becomes a canvas. Reality is experienced as more flexible, more giving, more abundant, and more satisfying.