Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


4 Comments

Asking Yourself ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ May Extend It

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don’t miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.

“What is the meaning of life?”

It’s one of those enormous questions that’s so important — both philosophically and practically, in terms of how we live our lives — and yet we rarely, if ever, stop to really think about the answer.

Given that you might be able to formulate your response in less than a minute, the wisdom-to-effort ratio for this philosophical exercise could not be more advantageous.

And having an answer may even improve your health and help you live longer.

A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry examined the relationship between our physical and mental well-being and the search for, or presence of, purpose in life.

After studying 1,300 subjects from ages 21 to more than 100, the authors found that older people were more likely to have found their life’s purpose, while younger people were more likely still searching. That’s logical, given that wisdom is often born from experience. According to research by Stanford education professor William Damon, the author of “The Path to Purpose,” only 20% of young adults have a fully realized sense of their life’s meaning.

And according to the new study, the presence of meaning in one’s life showed a positive correlation to one’s health, including improved cognitive function, while searching for it may have a slight negative effect. Mental and physical well-being was self-reported, and having a sense of purpose tended to peak around age 60, the study found.

According to two other studies published in 2014 — one among 9,000 participants over age 65 and another among 6,000 people between 20 and 75 — those who could articulate the meaning and purpose of their lives lived longer than those who saw their lives as aimless. It didn’t seem to matter what meaning participants ascribed to their life, whether it was personal (like happiness), creative (like making art) or altruistic (like making the world a better place). It was having an answer to the question that mattered.

The connection to longevity could be causal — having purpose may help one cope with daily stress, as other research has shown — but it could also be that those who think about life’s meaning are more likely to do other activities that promote good health.

Or as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,” nicely summing up the connection between having purpose and forbearance in one’s life.

 

meaning life

Starting an annual meaning of life resolution

The easiest but perhaps healthiest resolution you could make in the New Year may be to simply ask yourself what the meaning of life is for you. What gives you purpose? Why are we all here?
Every January for more than two decades, I have taken a few moments to ponder the answer to the question.

The reason I ask it annually is because my answer changes over time, which I find interesting and insightful. There is no objectively correct answer, I believe, only answers that are right for you at any given time.

Great thinkers (and celebrities) have given the question thought, so you can look to the words attributed to them for inspiration. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago, is believed to have written that the essence of life is “to serve others and to do good,” and the Roman philosopher Cicero, born 280 years later, came to the same conclusion. As did Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who wrote, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” And His Holiness the Dalai Lama added, “if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

Scottish rugby legend Nelson Henderson put the same notion poetically when he said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” And actress Whoopi Goldberg’s meaning-of-life metaphor was to “throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”

“Love” was the conclusion of Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actress Julie Benz. Alternatively, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger concluded, “The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”

My favorite answer, though, is the Zen-like circular reasoning attributed to writer Robert Byrne, who put it, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

Some have concluded that life’s meaning is subjective. “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary. “There is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

I agree, which is why I recommend formulating your own answer. “Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: It is something molded,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, well-known for his book “The Little Prince.”

Taking a few moments to record your answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?” is the kind of simple exercise that effectively adds meaning to your life.

And then I suggest answering it every year. Looking back at how your thinking has evolved and been influenced by experience tells you something more about yourself. Cumulatively, it gets you closer to a deeper self-understanding.

In 1997, my answer was “the discovery, pursuit and attainment of one’s bliss,” inspired by myth expert Joseph Campbell. A year later, is was to make “the world a better place.” In 2002, the year I got engaged, it was simply “Love.” And the year we conceived our oldest daughter, it was the less-romantic “continuation of one’s DNA to the next generation.” But most years, my answer is some combination of love, legacy, happiness, experience and helping others.

As a practical matter, if you want to do the annual “Meaning” exercise, I suggest not looking at past answers before answering anew, to avoid biasing your answer. I write them down on the same now-yellowing piece of loose-leaf paper, and keep it someplace safe.

The last use of this experiment is to try to turn your answer into action. If you conclude, as Tolstoy and Aristotle did, that the meaning of life to help others, that should help motivate you to do more of it. If “love,” is the answer, then love more. If it’s “find your bliss,” then get searching for it.

This is not a theoretical exercise. Whatever small step you make toward finding the meaning of life is a step toward a more meaningful, and longer, life.

By David G. Allan, CNN        Tue December 10, 2019
source: www.cnn.com


1 Comment

Pursue Meaning Instead of Happiness

What would you rather have: a happy life or a meaningful life?

You can both be happy and lead a meaningful life, of course. But most of us, consciously or not, choose the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of meaning. “Happy holidays,” we wish each other; “Happy New Year,” we say. If you’re like 45 percent of Americans, you are setting New Year’s resolutions with the aim of leading a happier life: One of the most popular, according to Nielsen, is to “enjoy life to the fullest.” In surveys, most people list happiness as their top value, and self-help books and life coaches make up part of a multibillion-dollar industry.

But should happiness really be the only goal that motivates us?

Research by the two of us shows that the happy life and the meaningful life differ — and that the surest path to true happiness lies in chasing not just happiness but also a meaningful life. Psychologists have started to look more closely at how seeking happiness affects people, and unearthed some unsettling trends. The pursuit of happiness, it turns out, negatively affects our well-being.

In one study by the behavioral scientists Jonathan Schooler, Dan Ariely, and George Loewenstein, participants listened to a piece of emotionally ambiguous music, Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The researchers told some participants to try to feel as happy as possible while listening; the others were simply asked to listen. The people who tried to feel happy ended up unhappier after the experiment than those who listened without trying to boost their mood. In another recent study, Iris Mauss of Berkeley and her colleagues found that people who highly value happiness — as measured by their endorsement of statements like “Feeling happy is very important to me” — reported feeling lonelier on a daily basis, as assessed in diary entries over two weeks. By contrast, the pursuit of meaning leads to a deeper and more lasting form of well-being.

The distinction between happiness and meaningfulness has a long history in philosophy, which for thousands of years has recognized two forms of well-being — hedonia, or the ancient Greek word for what behavioral scientists often call happiness, and eudaimonia, or what they call meaningfulness. The happy life is defined by seeking pleasure and enjoyment, whereas the meaningful life is bigger. In a new book that will be published next month, one of us (Emily) reviewed hundreds of empirical papers from the growing body of research on meaningfulness — as well as the writings of great thinkers from Aristotle to Tolstoy to Camus — and found that the defining features of a meaningful life are connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, which could be your family, your work, nature, or God.

But because meaning involves investing in something bigger, the meaningful life is often characterized by stress, effort, and struggle. In a survey of over 2 million people in more than 500 jobs by the organization PayScale, those who reported finding the most meaning in their careers were clergy, teachers, and surgeons — difficult jobs that don’t always cultivate happiness in the moment, but that contribute to society and bring those doing them satisfaction.

When people say their lives are meaningful, it’s because they feel their lives have purpose, coherence, and worth.

Of course, you can have both happiness and meaningfulness. In one analysis of five data sets comprising nearly 3,000 people, Veronika Huta of the University of Ottawa found that 20 percent of respondents reported being happy and leading meaningful lives — while another 20 percent were low on both. Among those remaining, 33 percent were high on happiness and low on meaning and 26 percent were high on meaning and low on happiness.

In two studies tracking over 400 Americans and published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, one of us (Jennifer) and her colleagues studied the type of people who fell into the last two groups — high on happiness but low on meaningfulness, and high on meaning but low on happiness —and found important differences in how they led their lives. Those in the happy group tended to avoid difficult or taxing entanglements, described themselves as relatively self-oriented, and spent more time thinking about how they felt in the moment. In contrast, those high in meaning spent more time helping others, being with friends or taking care of children, and thinking about the past, present and future.

purpose_quote

Though different people have different wellsprings of meaning, meaningful lives share three features, according to a paper published this year in the Review of General Psychology. After conducting an extensive review of the literature, the psychologists Login George and Crystal Park of the University of Connecticut identified the three features as purpose — the degree to which you feel directed and motivated by valued life goals; comprehension — the ability to understand and make sense of your life experiences and weave them into a coherent whole; and mattering — the belief that your existence is significant and valued. When people say their lives are meaningful, in other words, it’s because they feel their lives have purpose, coherence, and worth.

But meaning isn’t something you either have or don’t have. It’s an approach to life — a mind-set. People can choose to pursue meaning as well as happiness. In a recent paper, Veronika Huta and Richard Ryan discovered that people behave very differently depending on which they emphasize, and that in turn affects their well-being. In one study, college students were asked to pursue either meaning or happiness over ten days by doing at least one thing each day to increase meaning or happiness, respectively. Some of the most popular activities reported by people in the meaning group included forgiving a friend, studying, and helping or cheering up another person. Those in the happiness group listed activities like sleeping in, playing games, and eating candy.

Although the students in the happiness group experienced more positive feelings and fewer negative ones immediately after the study, three months later their mood boost had faded. The students focused on meaning, meanwhile, did not feel as happy right after the experiment, which makes sense: meaningful pursuits, like helping a friend, require sacrifice and effort, and can even be painful in the moment. Yet three months later, the picture was different. The students who had pursued meaning said they felt more “enriched,” “inspired,” and “part of something greater than myself.” They also reported fewer negative moods. Over the long term, it seemed, pursuing meaning was more deeply satisfying than chasing happiness.

Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, would not have been surprised. “To the European it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’”

Our goal this coming year shouldn’t just be happiness. Our goal should be meaningfulness. Instead of picking projects, hobbies, and relationships based on how happy they will make us, let’s focus on those things that make our lives more significant and worthwhile. If happiness ensues, great. But if it doesn’t, we can still take comfort in knowing that our lives matter and are contributing to the world in some way.

By Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer Aaker

Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, to be published in January by Crown. Jennifer Aaker is the General Atlantic Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

source: nymag.com


1 Comment

Lao Tzu’s Four Rules for Living

How to Live an Inspired and Peaceful Life

Many centuries ago, Lao Tzu, spoke of the four cardinal virtues, teaching that when we practice them as a way of life, we come to know the truth of the universe. The ancient Chinese master said that living and practicing these teachings can open you to higher wisdom and greater happiness, as they realign you to the source and enable you to access all the powers that source energy has to offer.

“When you succeed in connecting your energy with the divine realm through high awareness and the practice of undiscriminating virtue, the transmission of the ultimate subtle truths will follow.”  Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu means ‘Old Master,’ and he was believed by some to be a God-realised being. The Four Cardinal Virtues are found in the Tao Te Ching, a collection of sayings expounding the principal Taoist teachings. It has 81 short poetic verses packed full of universal wisdom for politics, society, and personal life, and aims to support personal harmony through the right view and understanding of existence. The Tao (also known as the Way or the Dao) has baffled its readers for centuries with its cryptic and deliberate contradictions, yet it offers a profound contemplation to seekers, lending itself to varied interpretations and inner questioning.

lao-tzu
Lao Tzu means ‘Old Master,’
and he was believed by some to be a God-realised being.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Tao is both named and nameless. As nameless it is the origin of all things; as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery; ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations. And the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding.” ― Wayne W. Dyer, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

The Tao Te Ching is the basic text of Taoism, but it has also influenced Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, and is among some of the most translated works in world literature. This powerful text of the Tao, road or way of life, reflects the force of the universe and even the universe itself. While many have tried to make sense of its mystery, one man immersed himself in this text, literally living its wisdom, and then distilled the essence of these ancient mystery teachings for a modern audience.

In 2006, the late Wayne Dyer was inspired to spend his entire 65th year reading, researching, and meditating on Lao Tzu’s messages, going into retreat to practice them and ultimately write down the insights he felt Lao Ttzu wanted us to know.  Dr Dyer researched ten well respected translations of the text and the result of that life-changing year was his best-selling book Change Your Thoughts—Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

Affectionately known as the Father of Motivation, Dr Dyer says Lao Tzu’s four cardinal virtues represent the surest way to leave habits and excuses behind and reconnect to your original nature. “The more your life is harmonised with the four virtues, the less you’re controlled by the uncompromising ego.”

Dr Dyer says
Lao Tzu’s four cardinal virtues
represent the surest way
to leave habits and excuses behind.

The Tao encourages us to be in touch with our own selves, particularly our deepest selves, for when you know who you really are, that is when you discover eternal peace. Lao Tzu liked to compare different parts of nature to different virtues. He said, “The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them. It stays in lowly places that others reject. This is why it is so similar to the Way (Dao).” Each part of nature can remind us of a quality we admire and should cultivate ourselves—the strength of the mountains, the resilience of trees, the cheerfulness of flowers.

We enter life with a seemingly clean slate, a spectacular pathway ahead of us with unlimited potentials and choices. To navigate our lives and get a handle on the challenges and gifts life will throw at us, it is useful to have some sort of compass so that we don’t end up on the rocks or lost at sea.

For many people this may be religion, morality, or the belief systems passed down by their family, and they may derive a sense of strength and direction through their strongly held inner compass sourced in this integrity. No matter what happens in life, they’ll always fall back on that maxim, whether it be, for example, to lead from the heart, or to be kind.

“To realise the constancy and steadiness in your life is to realise the deep nature of the universe. This realisation is not dependent on any transitory internal or external condition, rather it is an expression of one’s own immutable spiritual nature. The only way to attain the Universal Way is to maintain the integral virtues of the constancy, steadiness and simplicity in one’s daily life.” – Lao Tzu

The four cardinal virtues, or rules for living life, can provide a framework for a life filled with inner peace and purpose.

1. Reverence for all Life

This virtue manifests as having unconditional love and positive regard for all creatures in the universe, starting with ourselves, then this will naturally flow out to all others. This reverence is for all life, not just some forms. It is honouring all forms of life, and at its core has an innate spiritual understanding of how the universe truly works – that we are all sparks of the one fire. When we live with reverence for all life, we surrender our need to control and to dominate. We naturally come into heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for all of life. This first virtue is the key to diminishing the ego.

“Affirm this as often as you can, for when you see yourself in a loving way, you have nothing but love to extend outward. And the more you love others, the less you need old excuse patterns, particularly those relating to blame.” Wayne Dyer

2. Natural Sincerity

This virtue encompasses kindness and authenticity. To me, it has a feeling of compassion and an all-encompassing love for all beings. When we are sincere and act with integrity, we move towards peace and inner tranquility. Our conscience clear, we don’t have the inner niggles over our dishonest actions that can erode a peaceful mind. Much of these four pillars relate to karma, the law of cause and effect, and maintaining equilibrium and impeccability. This virtue is honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness, says Wayne Dyer. It is about being true to yourself and walking your talk.

According to Dyer, if you find this challenging, try affirming, “I no longer need to be insincere or dishonest. This is who I am, and this is how I feel.”

kindness_wisdom
Having unconditional love and positive regard
for all creatures in the universe.

 

3. Gentleness

Gentleness is a deeply powerful trait. Often interpreted as weakness, gentleness is sensitivity, respect, and reverence for all life. Perhaps this virtue can be summed up by the Dalai Lama who often says; “my religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.” In life, it is far more important to be kind than to be right, and to be kind rather than important. Gentleness is an umbrella for forgiveness, acceptance and love. It is much like the yogic term ahimsa, or non-violence. When we give up being right and being superior, we start accepting ourselves and others, and so much conflict in our lives drops away.

“Gentleness generally implies that you no longer have a strong ego-inspired desire to dominate or control others, which allows you to move into a rhythm with the universe. You cooperate with it, much like a surfer who rides with the waves instead of trying to overpower them. Gentleness means accepting life and people as they are, rather than insisting that they be as you are. As you practice living this way, blame disappears and you enjoy a peaceful world.” – Wayne Dyer

4. Supportiveness

When we are supportive of ourselves, with kind words, loving actions and self-care, we are naturally supportive of others. This virtue is the basic tenet of humanity. We are naturally social beings and, at our core, we want to be with others and to help others. Many experiments show how humans are motivated by connection and will move towards this rather than other things. When we give to others, share and support others, we become happy.  Our lives become meaningful and our hearts full. Supportiveness is about service. Open hearted service for the sake of helping others and benefiting others, with no thought to our own gain. Supportiveness is also about holding space for another, listening to another, and being there for others. It is radical loving kindness in action. This quote by the poet, Hafiz, sums it up: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth ‘you owe me.’”

“The greatest joy comes from giving and serving, so replace your habit of focusing exclusively on yourself and what’s in it for you. When you make the shift to supporting others in your life, without expecting anything in return, you’ll think less about what you want and find comfort and joy in the act of giving and serving.” Wayne Dyer

Let these four virtues fragrance your life, and notice the grace and ease that will come your way. For each one of these virtues brings in a way of being that is light, graceful and flowing and will help you shed destructive, self defeating patterns that sabotage your inner peace and happiness.

“The four cardinal virtues are a road map to the simple truth of the universe. To revere all of life, to live with natural sincerity, to practice gentleness, and to be in service to others is to replicate the energy field from which you originated.”  Dr Wayne Dyer

 

By UPLIFT on Saturday January 7th, 2017
 


Leave a comment

A Beautiful Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

Shubhra Krishan    April 10, 2015

In Japan, people famously get to enjoy their great grand children and often die peacefully in their sleep.

What’s their secret?

Yes, they eat plenty of fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. And yes, they eat small portions, cook their food lightly, and present it beautifully. All of these are indeed conducive to a healthier and longer life.

But there is something else–something way more powerful and deep–that holds the key to their longevity.

It’s called ikigai, and it is not a health food you can buy or a martial art you need to learn.

Ikigai simply means “a reason to wake up in the morning.” It is a gentle way of nudging you toward nurturing; inspiring you to care for life other than your own. It could be the life of a plant, a pet, or your great-grand children. The philosophy of ikigai is simple: caring for others brings deep satisfaction to your own life and helps you discover the meaning of your existence.

mirror

The concept is beautifully illustrated by this popular story from Japan:

In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.

“Who are you?” the Voice said to her.

“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied. “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.” “I am a school teacher.” “I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”

And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”

“I am a Shinto.” “I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.” “I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school.”

She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her ikigai.

I am inspired to reflect on my ikigai. Are you?