After academically working with 'meaning in life' as a psychological construct having both cognitive & emotional components ...
After struggling with finding 'meaning in my life' post 'occasional life-crisis' ...
Today, this moment, I had a sudden insight that meaning life is deeply experiential. One creates space for it and waits for it to come. There is a certain magic in it, like inspired creativity.
It often comes from doing things one deeply enjoys. Like I do from going within myself, contemplating, reading, writing, watching nature, creativity, good ideas, deeply connecting with people on a one to one level etc. Guess they make sense to me, though someone else might find them utterly meaningless. They are about personally meaningful activities without a judgement from an external or learned source, what is right or wrong.
Guess that must be the reason I got a lot of overlap between meaning and engagement (both quantitative and qualitative data) in my study in India. But .. but .. why is it not so in Western studies? I wonder why?
I mean why in India more often people find meaningful activities engaging, and find meaning in engaging activities?
I need to give more thought to this entire construct...
Well.. there be a possibility that engaging but pleasurable activities are not socially acceptable. Who would want one's family member to get addicted to the video games, (meditation would be another matter:). Not me! And yes family still rules... family rules are still internalised.
The wildest guess for me is one with which some Indian philosophers might agree... Indian culture and religions often treats pain and suffering lightly, and human life as more about divine joy and divine play, one should do ones duties, do it well and find ways to enjoy them. (If everyone really does that ... there will be high well-being.. what say ! :)
Also, there is little differentiation between altruistic meaningful activities and engaging activities. Good work is not a path to heaven, or God. (though I have heard in one of the lecture of westernised hare-krishna movement that serving is path to God, but majority of Indians don't care beyond serving their families as their spiritual practices).
Guilt ridden altruism is much less common ... so whatever altruism happens is also engaging, along with being meaningful ...
Looks like this cognitive sorting out of ones life path, or meaning in life leads to a differentiation and at times conflict, between what one really loves doing and what one thinks is socially beneficial, and altruistic, as per what has been told by people over the centuries. I have seen some miserable souls in this conflict ...
In India, wise people have always emphasised on first sorting out oneself, connecting deep within, with a belief that our realities are a reflection of our consciousness. And so, when we sort inside first, our actions will start reflecting that in the outer world. So wisdom first...
The Indian philosophy focuses on 'swabhava' and 'swadharma' a lot, very psychologically sophisticated concepts. They come from one of the most important spiritual-religious-philosophical source Bhagwat Gita, and a lot of most important sage-philosophers including Gandhi found it inspirational. Swabhava means ones nature, (can also wildly be interpreted as ones aesthetics & emotions), and swadharma means ones own right path. They are also dynamic constructs and will change and grow with your growth. So it focuses on finding self-understanding, and then finding the path suitable for you, which is both meaningful and engaging.
After yesterday's class I might be tempted to go on to brain areas involved. But hey stop!
That must be one of the reasons why people who are in quest for it are the most unhappy ones even worse than those who do not think much about it. Though having meaning in life is the best and strongest predictor of happiness (Subjective well being and its components).
(hey wait, possibly unhappy people search more for meaning in life, with a sense of hopelessness? ... Or there might be a measurement error... )
But I wanna go back to my engagement .. and not remain stuck with this question at this moment... after all I'm on vacation :) Let the answers come ...
Any way, I'm suddenly glad about this insight, ... though a sick day off from work to spend in a little meditation, a lot of looking outside my window on a sunny day, connecting with important people in my life, reading poetry, articles, having my comfort food of milk and cereals etc might have also done the magic.
Here is one of my all time favourite from Tagore. I used to have it painted on my wall. I should bring out my colors today... My walls look empty without this one...
The Grasp Of Your Hand
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling
Your mercy in my success alone; but let me find
the grasp of Your hand in my failure.
(- Rabindranath Tagore)