Meaning is personal, and there are countless activities people engage in to satisfy this deep-seated need. There are, however, a handful of powerful means by which we can bootstrap ourselves toward higher goals that have proven to be especially beneficial to both individuals and society. These include:
- Deep love and family commitment—the bonding and attachment to others increases one’s circle of sentiments, and corresponding sense of purpose to care about others as much as, if not more than, oneself.
- Meaningful work and career—the sense of purpose derived from discovering one’s passion for work drives people to achieve goals so far beyond the needs of themselves that they lift all of us to a higher plane, either directly through the derivatives of the work itself, or indirectly through inspiration and role modeling.
- Social and political involvement—as a social species we have an obligation to community and society to participate in the process of determining how best we should live together.
- Transcendency and spirituality—a capacity unique to our species that includes aesthetic appreciation, spiritual reflection, and transcendent contemplation through a variety of expressions such as art, music, dance, exercise, meditation, prayer, quiet contemplation, and religious revere, connecting us on the deepest level with that which is outside of ourselves.
The basic drive of meaning is inherent, but higher moral meanings are learned; as such, to reach higher levels of meaning requires individual volition, personal effort, and social consciousness. Morality and meaning are thus inextricably linked—you cannot have one without the other. Fortunately, nature has granted us the capacity for both morality and meaning, culture affords us the liberty to reach for higher moral meanings, and history has brought us to a place where we can employ both for the enrichment of all.
~Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University.
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