To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony - William Henry Channing
Please see below selected recent meaning-related change.
- What's New? - Meaning
- What's Changing? - Purpose
- What's Changing? - Philosophy
- On Friedrich Nietzsche
- An article in the Financial Times highlighted research from European academics that suggested that smart, skilled employees are more likely to accept lower wages for work they think is meaningful. The research found that employees at environmentally friendly firms earned between 9 and 15% less than those doing the same job in oil companies, mining companies, or other less sustainable businesses. This disparity is consistent across sectors and has widened since 2001, becoming known as the ‘sustainability wage gap’.
- Big Think noted that the reductionist view of reality posits that the only phenomena that matter are fundamental particles and their interactions: we are nothing more than an animated pile of carbon atoms. However, science doesn’t really support this view. For instance, quantum physics has been telling us for a long time that information plays a central role in our understanding of the world. Information is inherently meaningful, which suggests that our Universe is built upon meaning.
- Further reading:
Researchers and philosophers identify two types of psychological wellbeing, which can be summarised as the purposeful and the pleasurable. Previous research established that, on average, wealthy people experience happier, more meaningful lives. A more recent study asked a more nuanced question: does meaning predict happiness, regardless of wealth? The results suggested that meaning is less important to happiness for wealthy people. More importantly, meaning may be extra important for people without much money.
- Epiphenomenalism is the idea that our conscious minds serve no role in affecting the physical world. On the contrary, our thoughts are a causally irrelevant by-product of physical processes that are occurring inside of our brains. According to epiphenomenalism, we are like children pretending to drive a car - we are really not in charge.
- According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind may have onmental health. "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable claimed, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. He and other thinkers considered what it means to find meaning in work, discussed the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and shared strategies for reassessing people's relationship to their job.
- Animals do not seek meaning, as far as we can tell. The very concept of a meaningful life is incomprehensible to them. There is just life, and life consists of the things that need to be done and then things they just seem to like doing. Plants are the same. It is not always easy being a plant, but there is a lot of down time. Perhaps we should take much more of a cue from the flora and fauna that surround us. But one animal is quite different: us. The human. Many humans have a very strange idea that life should consist of more than just quacking and floating. It should be “meaningful,” whatever that is. But maybe this is wrong: maybe, once we have the basics, it is enough just to bask in the sunshine and potter around.
- Life is full of problems. We can moan about them, or we can solve them. Scott Peck arguesin The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth that discipline is the toolbox for solving problems. Peck’s argument is based on the notion that most of us want to avoid problems - they are painful and often lead us to confront our humanity. They are frustrating. There are false starts. We lack consistent frameworks for improvement. They cause us to feel sad and lonely; things we’d rather avoid. The mental pain and strain often rival physical pain. Yet Peck argues it is in this “whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning".
- Managers at all levels routinely - and unwittingly - undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct subordinates through everyday words and actions. These include dismissing the importance of subordinates’ work or ideas, destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalised, shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day, and neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.
- McKinsey believes that it is now well understood that people who believe their job has meaning and a broader purpose are more likely to work harder, take on challenging or unpopular tasks, and collaborate effectively. Research repeatedly shows that people deliver their best effort and ideas when they feel they are part of something larger than the pursuit of a paycheck. At a time when many companies are engineering jarring transformational changes to become more agile, digitally enabled, and proactive competitors, it is more important than ever that employees find meaning in their work. Traditional rewards systems and career ladders are disappearing, so workers need new reasons to believe in their companies.
- There are few statistics on unfulfilling jobs. But in a YouGov poll, UK workers were asked “if their job made a meaningful contribution to the world”; 37% no and in a similar survey 40% of Dutch employees said their job had no reason to exist. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory postulates that more than half the jobs that exist are pointless and are in fact toxic to society. In the United States, 21 million people are estimated to be creating little or no economic value, according to a study by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini.
- For the School of Life, a meaningful life is close to, but at points importantly different from, a happy life, as a meaningful life should draw upon, and exercise, a range of our higher capacities, for example, those bound up with tenderness, care, connection, self-understanding, sympathy, intelligence and creativity. A meaningful life aims not so much at day-to-day contentment as fulfilment and it is bound up with the long-term, as projects, relationships, interests and commitments will build up cumulatively. Meaningful activities leave something behind, even when the emotions that once propelled us into them have passed.
- An article in The Philosopher’s Magazine argued that we have no soul, no fixed self, and no inherent purpose. We exist simply because we exist, tiny specks on a small planet in an infinite universe, and not because a god made the Earth for us. This conception, called “naturalism,” leaves many people feeling deeply uneasy—consciously or unconsciously - and casting about for meaning.
- Further reading:
- The School of Life noted that people nowadays often say that ‘life just has no meaning'. Two reasons are often cited for this. The first is because, as religious belief has declined, so has the meaning it once guaranteed. Modern science is the second cause of the current crisis of meaning. Scientists tell us that existence, which emerged from a random interplay of chemicals and gases, does have meaning, but of a rather bleak, relentless and narrow sort: - the meaning of life is survival and the propagation of one’s genetic material. It sounds very true and at the same time, distinctly futile and melancholy.
- Do you sense it’s all meaningless? If so, don’t let your fundamental gloominess be a reason to do nothing, argued Quartz. Meaninglessness can become a sort of freedom that allows one to affirm life despite its absurdity. The message? Don’t despair - or despair, that’s fine too.
- How much of your lifetime earnings would you sacrifice to work a job you find always meaningful, asked The World Economic Form? The answer is 23 percent, assuming you're like the 2,000 workers who were surveyed in a recent report from Harvard Business Review. This supports data showing how - in this case American - workers have, over the past decade, been increasingly expressing a desire for more ,meaningful work.
- The meaning of life is a mystery that remains elusive. Whether we place our faith in scientific progress, the afterlife, family or personal well-being, we struggle to convince ourselves of deeper purpose. Today’s world presents us with new challenges, whilst promising to offer answers to age-old questions. In a free course, the IAI Academy presented a radical account of how humanity has found meaning, and suggests the next ways which we will look for the meaning of life.
- Brain Pickings noted that the meaning of life has been pondered by such literary icons as Leo Tolstoy (1904), Henry Miller (1918), Anaïs Nin (1946), Viktor Frankl (1946), Italo Calvino (1975), and David Foster Wallace (2005). And although some have argued that today’s age is one where “the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning,” there is an unshakable and discomfiting sense that, in our obsession with optimising our creative routines and maximising our productivity, we have forgotten how to be truly present in the mystery of life.
- "God is dead" claimed Nietzsche, "and we have killed him". From this pessimistic beginning, another IAI course took a critical look at Christianity and Nietzsche alike to look at why we find ourselves in this predicament, returning to the ancient question of what gives us meaning, and ultimately arriving at a reading of Nietzsche’s philosophy that aims to affirm a godless life.
- A psychologist who worked on people who have undergone ‘suffering-induced transformational experiences’ - people who were diagnosed with cancer and told they only have a short time left to live, people who suffered bereavements, who became seriously disabled, who lost everything through addiction, and so on. In some cases, they had close encounters with death during combat or survived heart attacks or serious accidents - claims that what all these people have in common is that, through undergoing intense suffering, they ‘woke up.’They stopped taking life, the world and other people for granted. They gained a massive sense of appreciation for everything - a sense of the preciousness of life, their own bodies, the other people in their lives, and the beauty and wonder of nature.
- Still very poignant is Viktor Frankl's timeless treatise on how the darkest of circumstances illuminate the human search for meaning.
- However, Quartz warned that meaningless jobs are draining economic productivity and that a large portion of mostly corporate positions could be eliminated without affecting society.
- A Fast Company article warned that the most urgent, most critical work challenge does not come from customers, activists, or shareholders. The most urgent challenge lies within. According to the 2018 World Value Index, only 14% (of Americans) strongly agree that the values of their employer match their own. Another 28% say they somewhat agree, meaning a majority are spending the majority of their productive lives in environments they don’t fully believe in.
- The search for meaning, unsurprisingly, remains an ambition, sometimes an obsession, for very many. Inspiring thinkers have attempted, in the past* and more recently, to provide clarity on this topic, but the mystery and subjectivity remain.
- AC Grayling talked a few years ago on Desert Island Discs about 'contributing to the conversation society has with itself about possibilities for good lives in good societies'.
- In 1931, author and philosopher Will Durant wrote to a number of notable figures and asked, essentially, "What is the meaning of life?" Durant received many replies, a selection of which were compiled in the book, "On the Meaning of Life". Among the most thoughtful replies was one from H.L Mencken.
- Holocaust survivor and psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl argued that the best way to encourage the young is to understand and help them satisfy their strongest desire - the search for meaning.
- AC Grayling talked a few years ago on Desert Island Discs about 'contributing to the conversation society has with itself about possibilities for good lives in good societies'. This is exactly what Halcyon will be about too; encouraging frank conversations, between diverse individuals and groups, that help people develop their own "choice architecture" but that do not romanticise particular values.