Monday, September 6, 2010

Meaning and Giving

Beloved cousin Wee was in town, and told me of her current dilemma. Perhaps because of a stessbasket-y project she's working on at work, or perhaps because of all the media attention to the 5-year anniversary of Katrina, after which she had to rebuild her life...she is thinking about what it all means.

Sure, you work a good job, you try to make a nice life for yourself, you love your family, you do enjoyable and pleasant things, you have your hobbies...and is that it? Is that all there is to life, a dance featuring pleasantness interspersed with stressbasketing, and hope that pleasantness has the lead role? And in the end it all gets washed away?

Tal Ben-Shahar, positive psychology guru, writes that happiness is a combination of pleasure and meaning. So even if you're doing well on the pleasure side of things, if you don't have enough meaning, you feel like something's lacking.

And cousin Wee reconfirms that meaning is a tricky thing to pin down. Viktor Frankl doesn't necessarily say that life is anything more than circling a bleak existential drain - but, while we're here, we must make our own meaning, we decide what will bring it to our lives.

It seems to me that meaning has to do with giving. Like Winston Churchill said, we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. But where and why and how to give is what makes up the most difficult part of this question. What can you give, what gifts can you share, what motivates you to do so? What do you care a lot about? What do you know a lot about? I think it's about using your powers for good - which means you have to think both about your powers and your idea of what really is good.

I think many women of a certain age find it easy to think that having children and having a family will give life meaning. And it can. Leaving a legacy of yourself, passing on your values and beliefs, being a part of humanity continuing itself... but how do you do that if you haven't figured out yourself, your values, your beliefs, what parts of humanity are worth continuing?

Although thinking about meaning in life is usually totally my jam, I spent my whole summer in a blissful summer coma, flitting from leaf to leaf without a care in the world. As I've mentioned before, it's been a sweet relief compared to feeling like a sherpa carrying a hundred pound sack on my back.

But the approach of fall always makes me restless and ambitious, makes me want to plan my back to school outfit and set new goals and excelsior!!!!!ever upward. I have schemes and plans and dreams, which is also nice, in comparison to feeling like a member of the undead, walking around with nothing inside but blank walls and cork.

But I'm still tired and summer-coma-y enough to want to take on all these things slowly, still take time to practice the skill of savoring. E.g.: I am sitting on Spangles' parents' back porch on a gorgeous, sunny, September day. I can here the neighbors gabbing poolside in the next yard over. Spangles is reading for class. The dog is snoozing on the couch, a hummingbird visits the hummingbird feeder, its wings so fast they are visible and invisible at the same time.

1 comment:

schoolmarmalade said...

Write something else now! We want hotcakes!