My Meaning-Making Perspective
And we see how we have come from seeking meaning to
finding meaning in the seeking. Daniel Boorstin
Have you ever asked: What is the meaning of my life? Have you ever had discussions about this with others? The meaning of life has been a topic of discussion and debate for centuries. For some reason it has been a topic of mine for years. I don’t know how important meaning-making is for others today. This blog is a brief review of my meaning-making perspective over the years, referring to books and quotes that have influenced me.
In his 1998 book, The Seekers, Daniel Boorstin points out that we are all seekers; we all want to know why and how. And it is this seeking that continues to bring us together, that makes and keeps us human. The opening quote above has been very meaningful to my perspective of meaning. I have often written that the seeking of meaning is my mission. Seeking is always my goal, so I am always achieving it. I find meaning in the seeking. Thomas Merton explains it this way: Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
Probably the most popular writing about meaning is Viktor Frankl’s 1959 book, Man’s Search For Meaning. He speaks to my belief about meaning: The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Meaningfulness to me depends on the context of my life. As a teenager, a young family man, a beginning teacher, a decision making writer and speaker, in my new married life, as a eighty something older man, my meaning changed according to the circumstances of my life. Instead of an abstract, permanent life-meaning, my meaning-making perspective is related to my evolving life story.
The sub-title of this blog is from the 1991 book, Creative Aging, A Meaning-Making Perspective by Mary Baird Carlsen. She recommends the adoption of a “systems perspective on meaning-making”. System-thinking is a holistic approach to how the world works that focuses on interconnections over time and within the context of larger systems. Carlsen says: In the case of aging, meaning-making can include the taking of what we have to make of it what we can. I like to think that is what I have been trying to do — taking what I have and making what meaning I can.
As you can tell by the dates of the books and quotes, seeking meaning has been of interest to me for a long time. It makes sense because of my interest in uncertainty, holistic thinking, interconnectedness, and an open and inclusive worldview. This system-thinking perspective means instead of thinking the pursuit of happiness, it is thinking the happiness of pursuit. As Harvey Cox suggests, maybe what I am seeking is already here.
What we are seeking so frantically elsewhere may turn out to be
the horse we are riding all along.