How to find meaning in life and be happy
(The contents of this post are heavily based on Erich Fromm’s teachings).
Whether we find meaning for our lives is what determines the quality of our lives. Without meaning, our lives are full of dissatisfaction and discord. When we find meaning for our lives, our lives are full of joy and fulfillment. To love our lives, we must find meaning in it.
Life is painful. If you look around, all you see is more reason not to love it. There’s death, injustice, loss, and pain. If we take this perspective, however, and only see the bad and hurtful side of life, our lives become miserable. Only through finding meaning and purpose can we enjoy life and get fulfillment out of it.
One of the reasons we become depressed or lack motivation in life is because of lacking the meaning of life. When you face the difficulties of life, it’s possible to ask ourselves, what is it all for? Why do I have to suffer?
How to find meaning in life
Develop an independent sense of self
One way to find meaning in life is to develop our own independent sense of self. This is achieved by developing our own views, values, and principles rather than following those that have been set for us.
By embracing our own uniqueness, we discover our own ideas and abilities. We recognize that we are separate and different from others. According to Fromm, we give birth to ourselves.
Following our actions, ideas, and abilities
Another way to achieve meaning in our lives is by following our actions, ideas, and abilities. When we use our abilities and involve ourselves in creative purposes, we let go of our certainties. We venture into the unknown and this gives our lives even more meaning.
Creativity and doing something that had never been done before gives us courage. It makes us non-conformists and this form of independence makes us proud of ourselves and adds meaning to our lives.
We find meaning from loving as well. Our capacity to love others individually, and not experiencing the emotion of love but experiencing the relatedness to another person.
A healthy kind of love is one in which we respect the uniqueness and independence of ourselves and others and love them as they are. A healthy kind of love is one in which you choose to respect the other person as an individual and respect their autonomy.
A possessive kind of love whereby you blend your personalities is not a healthy kind of love and it does not give us meaning. According to Fromm, the only way to love ‘is to grant the other person full individuality, respect their opinion, preferences, and beliefs’.
Don’t mold yourself to be accepted by others
We cannot love others without loving ourselves. So another way to find meaning in our lives is not trying to mold ourselves in a way that we will be accepted by others.
We find meaning by developing a strong and authentic sense of self. This means you have a strong sense of what you stand for, and you respect what others stand for and give them respect to do so. If you shape yourself such that you will meet the approval of others so that they can love you, you will lose yourself.
You will find yourself in relationships that you feel validate you. Such relationships are when you want to be given things such as material things, to feel validated. You will tend to believe that goodness is out there, and you don’t have them within you, and you feel the need to constantly acquire them.
Adopt flexibility and learning
Becoming open to opportunities and improving yourself can give your life meaning. When you are open-minded and willing to change your beliefs, you open up your life to opportunities.
Such a person is free and open to accepting others as they are and does not need a mask to shield herself from the world. She is open and authentically herself and presents the same image to others.
Explore if you have nonproductive personalities
These are the kind of personalities that people adopt in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or avoid opportunities to look into themselves and identify the need for growth. According to Fromm, these personalities are; receptive, exploitative, hoarding and marketing.
- Receptive personality
This kind makes you accept all roles and not fight for a chance to improve or better yourself or your surroundings. It makes you follow and not take an initiative to lead. This adopted personality can make you a victim in its extreme state.
For example, a victim in an abusive relationship can learn helplessness and choose to stay in their conditions. Often, they accept their situation and don’t oppose their abuser.
- Exploitative personality
This personality can make a person self-centered, a person that takes from others and never gives. Individuals with such personality can show strong confidence and initiative, which they use to take from others and benefit themselves.
- Hoarding type
This is probably what we call bootlickers. They fight to retain what they have and seek to acquire more. They seek to be associated with people in high places since this is how they retain their value. They ate often power-hungry and not generous.
- Marketing type
This kind of personality makes you ‘sell’ yourself to improve your image. Status matters to them. They seek ways to show off what reflects their status such as dressing well, holidays, cars.
It’s possible such a personality can make you ambitious and highly motivated to acquire the things that will improve your status and make you feel good about yourself as discussed in extrinsic motivation.
Fromm also discusses this extremely negative personality. These kinds of people are uncomfortable with how unpredictable life is and are obsessed with instilling their own law and order.
As a result, they can become dictators in an effort to create some order into life. They are also obsessed with the talk of death and sickness and only think about the negatives of life.
I hope you get the courage to explore your identity and develop your sense of self. I hope you open up and give yourself a chance to love yourself and others. I hope you work on your self-improvement and personal development to give more meaning to your life. I hope you find your meaning, your why.
Recommended book; Man’s search for meaning, Victor Frankl
No time to read? Check out the 15 minute book summary on Blinkist.