Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Importance of a “Sense of Personal Meaningfulness”

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that claims that individual human beings have full responsibility for creating the meanings of their own lives. It is a reaction against more traditional philosophies, such as rationalism and empiricism, which sought to discover an ultimate order in metaphysical principles or in the structure of the observed world. The movement had its origins in the 19th century thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and was prevalent in Continental philosophy. In the 1940s and 1950s, French philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus wrote scholarly and fictional works that helped to popularize themes associated with existentialism: "dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, [and] nothingness."

This notion – the importance of a sense of personal meaningfulness – is pivotal to living a good, healthy, happy and meaningful life. Interestingly, it became abundantly clearer to me when I was writing a pop-psych book I published in 2002, Ultimate Challenges: After the Fall. The following description, written by the publisher, is on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com where the book can be obtained very easily.

Mark Shepherd (a Five Time Gold Medalist in Wheelchair Basketball), Ted Henter (a Seven-Time National and One-Time World Blind Water Skiing Champion), Mike Hudson (a National Champion - One Arm Golfer), Bonnie St. John Deane (an Elite Disabled Snow Skier) who skis on one leg, and Tony Volpentest (a Two-Time Paralympic World Record Holder in the 100 and 200 Meters) who runs on prosthetic legs and feet, are but five of the ten world class athletes showcased in this book. The character and essence of these remarkable individuals include courage, hard work, dedication, and commitment in confronting many of life’s Ultimate Challenges, not just in the gym, on the practice field, or in the arena, but every day, all day. To honor them, Dr. Emener is donating all of his royalties from the sale of this book to the United States Olympic Committee for the exclusive support of United States Paralympians.

The following, in Chapter 11, “Ultimate Challenges Revisited” is on pages 102-103:

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An obvious significant motivator for these athletes is a sense of personal meaningfulness. When Mark Shepherd is talking about his philosophy that adversity is a part of life, it is not always bad, and at times adversity can be a catalyst that ultimately makes us stronger as a person, he says:

We all want fifteen minutes of fame, as some people suggest. Yes, I have met the President of the United States and had dinner at the White House. But in the final analysis, when they put the last few nails in your pine box or the lid on your silver casket, what ever the case may be, it is the legacy you leave behind in the hearts and minds of people that counts! How you have made the world a better place in which to live or how you have helped improve the life of another person, is the true measure of your success as a person. It has been, and is, through disabled sports that my children and my family have become proud of me, and I have become so proud of myself.

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Question: What and how important are your “personal senses of meaningfulness” in your life?



Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

Although I did drop my existentialism class at university, I did manage to complete a few philosophy courses :) (the philosophy of psychology was much more interesting to me than Neitzsche!!)

I add meaningfulness to my life through my work in an animal shelter. I am fully committed to helping homeless animals and giving them a voice. And we get to help many many people too! It is very hard, but very rewarding work.

I think it is important to create meaning in your life and to give back. Leave the world a better place than you found it :)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello MHT,
Even though you dropped the Existentialism course, and may not have found Nietzsche to be al that interesting, your lifestyle indeed emulates many of their philosophical beliefs. If more people in the world not only subscribed to your beliefs and attitudes but “lived them” (e.g., as you do at the animal shelter), the world would be a better place. When I see many of the egocentric, self-centered and self-focused people of today, I shudder.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and “sharing/giving lifestyle,”

DH said...

Existentialism is so me! I am so grateful for that. As I cut and paste from my blog:
Viktor E. Frankl
"A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all it's horrors, less real. But in robbing the present of it's reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist." page 80.
That said it all for me when I began my blog (it could use updating at this point). I still believe the statement as truth, but I am moving on now and finding my other "truths" in life. I think we all have our own truth to find. It reminds me of the movie "City Slickers" when Curly says:there's one thing that's the key to happiness. Billy Crystal (on bated breath)"what is it?" Curly:You have to figure that out for yourself. I laughed, because it is tooooo true. And who ever came up with the idea that personal pain, suffering, and tragedy is a "bad" thing? It's not fun, I don't like it or look forward to it. But, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate or find it's value. For me, I believe God wants me touch as many people as possible with my past experiences of pain and mistakes. That's what keeps me motivated. DH

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello again, DH,
Yes, from what you have said (here as well as on your blog), Existentialism easily could be your middle name. You indeed have found you sense(s) and source(s) of meaningfulness in your life.
And, if I may add, when Curly says, “You have to figure that out for yourself,” lets remember that according to Existentialism (and my beliefs as well), it is the searching for the answers that’s important (the process, the climb) not necessarily the answer (the answer, the summit).
Thanks again so much!

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I think having a life with meaning and purpose can also help with depression. It has for me. Even just smiling, helping others in small ways, seeing the positive side of life, or silver lining, creates more positive energy, which in turn makes the world a better place to live- I believe random acts of kindness are so powerful :)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello again MHT,
Thank you for sharing your experiences – not only are they demonstrative of being caring and giving (which in turn give a sense of meaning and purpose in you own life… as well as others’), they also anchor a behavioral approach to life (and counseling) that is called “Solution-Focused Therapy.” If for example we assume that certain behaviors are associated with depression (lying around on the couch, not going out, etc.) and certain behaviors are associated with happiness (going for walks, exercising, volunteering at an animal shelter), then the more we do the latter things the greater the probability of us being happy (and less depressed). I have tongue-in-cheek asked many clients over the years, “Are you not doing certain things because you are depressed OR are you depressed because you aren’t doing certain things?”
Thanks again, MHT (and keep doping what you’re doing!),