A Question of Meaning
A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale – involving hundreds of millions of people – and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age.”
– Gregg Easterbrook – Journalist, The New Republic
That momentous changes are occurring in our society and throughout the world is not in doubt. What these changes mean, and just how they will impact each of us are open questions. Will we simply react? Or will we take control of our lives and choose our course? If we decide to make clearheaded choices, what will be our guide? Here are a few realities to consider:
- Most of the demographically huge baby boom generation now has more of their life behind them than ahead of them.
- The specter of terrorism is now with us to stay as a constant reminder of just how fleeting life is.
- Technology continues its unrelenting march, flooding us with more information and choices than we can possibly consume in our lifetimes.
This seems like an opportune moment in history to really reflect on whether we are allocating not only our financial resources, but also those priceless resources of time and energy, in a way that brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives.
The Happiness-Meaning Connection
“Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. Happiness cannot be pursued…it must ensue.”
– Victor Frankl – Holocaust survivor, Author of Man’s Search for Meaning
Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former head of the American Psychological Association, has conducted research showing that among the things that contribute to happiness are:
- Engaging in satisfying work
- Avoiding negative events and emotions
- Being married
- Having a rich social network
- Developing gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism
What doesn’t matter according to Seligman are making more money, getting lots of education, or living in a pleasant climate. But more important still, Seligman finds, is that happiness ensues from using your “signature strengths” (i.e. ‘what you are great at’) in the service of something larger than yourself.
Financial Well-Being Ensues
What does all this mean for your financial well-being (your financial prosperity and happiness)? It’s about the idea that, as Victor Frankl states and Seligman’s research supports, happiness and fulfillment ensue from meaning. Stated another way, your values and how you put them into action ultimately determine your happiness. Thus, the more facets of your financial life that are in alignment with your values (i.e. what is meaningful to you), the sooner you are likely to reach a state of financial well-being.
Your values should provide the focus for arranging your financial life. If your values aren’t guiding your financial life, then whose are? Your financial advisor’s, your friends’, your auto mechanic’s? Or are you leaving it up to fate?
I have two questions for you:
Are your financial resources, both what you earn and what you spend, in alignment with your values and your life purpose?
If they are not now, then when?
For more about signature strengths and happiness, go to Dr. Seligman’s website atwww.authentichappiness.org.
Want to read more about aligning your financial life with your values? I recommend Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, the seminal guide on personal money management.