What is to give light must endure burning. ~Viktor Frankl
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. ~Pablo Picasso
*Followers may recognize that portions of today’s post were first published January 2, 2018. For the many newcomers, welcome – we look forward to finding purpose and meaning for 2021 together!
So – what is the meaning of your life?
It’s an easy enough question to ask.
But it’s hard to answer truthfully. To fully consider it – to take in the gravity of it, the weight of it, the texture surrounding it. To think through: what do I stand for?
Even though it’s difficult to do that self-reflection justice, finding the answer gives you the key to unlocking so much of your potential.
And your power.
A story: During WWII, a promising young jewish psychotherapist named Viktor Frankl refused an opportunity to escape the Nazis.
He had obtained a passport – a golden ticket that would save his life and allow him to continue his groundbreaking work on the human search for meaning. But he knew suffering – immense, crushing suffering – was coming.
Could he leave his parents behind to travel that road alone?
He gave up his golden ticket. He remained.
Ultimately Frankl was sent to Auschwitz, where he counseled himself and his fellow prisoners through surviving the un-survivable. His experiences in the camps solidified what he had always theorized: life demands meaning.
When there is meaning, there is survival.
Time and again, he saw that those who had “something to live for” did just that.
One prisoner yearned to see his young son again. Another, a scientist, was driven to finish his life’s work.
Others who lacked such passion – such purpose – perished.
After the war, he continued to see that people who found a meaning in their struggles powered through them. He determined that “[s]triving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”
This is all the more interesting at the dawn of each New Year, when we’re bombarded with messages that we should all be searching for “happiness.”
Books and seminars tell us to find our happiness with this secret formula or by repeating that affirmation ten times every morning. (Especially if you couple those affirmations with a $4,999 motivational course.)
Well-intentioned articles peddle the “top ten tips for finding happiness.”
Swindlers Infotainers proclaim that the key to unlocking our happiness is to earn more money or save time, which we’ll do if we join this group, or take that course, or buy their e-book/seminar/recording.
It’s both better and worse this year. As we collectively yearn for a better time, too many have been wooed into the false sense that come 2021 we’ll feel that peace, and calm – and maybe even the happiness – that’s escaped us in 2020.
Frankl knew better. He knew that “happiness” is fleeting and vapid.
It’s the emotion that we feel after we’ve opened the perfect present, or lost the five pounds, or gotten the pretty dress. It’s fun while it lasts – so fun that some people chase that happiness dragon their whole lives.
But happiness is an emotion derived from receiving. It’s a selfish emotion, really. Primal. Instinctive.
Even animals experience happiness.
But humans are different; we look for more than happiness. We look for a reason. We look for a purpose in our lives, a way to give above and beyond ourselves.
We look for transcendence of purpose; a way to leave an imprint on the world that lasts long after we are gone.
A monument to our lives, well lived.
If happiness is taking, then purpose is giving – and it’s through the giving that we find contentment and satisfaction.
And, for many of us, the last four years – and especially the last 10 months – have given us a way to give ourselves for a higher purpose. That purpose has kept many of us going. It’s given some of us new life, new focus, new careers, new relationships.
We’ve endured (and continue to endure) emotional turmoil. Psychologists claim that they’ve seen a rise in anxiety among their patients; articles and books describe how the American psyche is handling the devolution of our democracy.
But still, we go on.
Because within this community that you are part of, there is a certainty of purpose. There is well-earned self-worth, a feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that our contribution is meaningful – if not downright essential.
In a few weeks, those who entered this new year looking for happiness and quick fixes will probably feel unfulfilled and disappointed. We’ll see more articles about people abandoning their New Year’s resolutions, and about depression, and about anxiety. We’ll see more op-eds about how 2021 is no better than 2020.
But for us, this coming year – and every one thereafter – holds so much potential. Because we know our purpose. We’re not searching for meaning. We’re living it.
You’re living it.
So thank you for being part of a community – forged with shared values, shared energy, and shared hope – that has been the source of strength and meaning for so many. And that has fought and won many battles on behalf of people you’ll never know. Your life is a blessing; the world is lucky to have you.
As am I.
So as 2020 comes to a close, know that on New Year’s Eve I’ll be raising a glass to you, and wishing you a very Happy and Healthy New Year.
Next week we will return to our traditional formal – a “pep talk” followed by a list of action items (“small deeds”) to take. This week, take a few extra days to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. We’ve done a lot, together.
I’m so, so proud.
I hope you are, too.
Happy New Year, much love – and rest up, friends, because there will be much to do in 2021.
P.S. YES you can certainly help the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns, especially with phone banking, although both have a number of other opportunities for both in-state and out-of-state volunteers. Check them out by clicking here: (Jon Ossoff) (Rev. Warnock)
P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.
P.P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.