A Meaningful Life
They say the best way to learn is to teach, so my recent teaching of the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, “The Father of Positive Psychology,” probably helped me more than it did my students. Since my young students are at the stage Seligman referred to as a Pleasant Life the later possibilities are more my curriculum than theirs.
The Pleasant Life is a life of positive emotion and mindfulness. We savor the delights that life has to offer and tend to move from one pleasure to the next, enjoying this world as we would a smorgasbord. The down side of this is that we habituate, or get used to a particular pleasure and have to up the ante, move on to something else.
The next possibility is the Good Life where inner “flow” or expression replaces the pursuit of pleasure. This is a huge shift because now we are defining life in terms of our signature strengths. We are the music, rather than dancing to the music.
The final possibility is the Meaningful Life in which we use our signature strengths in service of something higher. As I was teaching this one of my students asked, “Professor, are you living a meaningful life?” Well now…
I answered that I hoped so, but I would leave it to my students to decide. This was an unexpected role reversal and it led to a bit more self-reflection than usual. And “usual” is pretty darned self-reflective!
Am I using my signature strengths? Are you? Where are we on the hierarchy of positivity proposed by Seligman? One thing is for sure, if we haven’t learned that a life defined from the outside-in starts the endless pendulum swing between have and have not, black and white, and all the other opposites that beset the world, we haven’t been very focused Life students.
The recent political elections were the typical feeding frenzy of debates, character assassination, and negative commercials that evidently leaves the majority of voters repulsed and poll-o-phobic. Idealistic rhetoric laced with self-serving and negative commentary brings to mind the Eastern saying, “A drop of arsenic in a pot of tea is a pot of arsenic.”
I’ve thought about what I would want as my epitaph, the final assessment of whether my life has had meaning, and I came up with two thoughts:
She did the best she could.
She left it better than she found it.
I’ll have to think more about the notion of meaning and hopefully will have more time to figure it out. Ponder what my mentor Teresa shared with me today. She paraphrased Robert Johnson, the great Jungian psychologist, who wrote that to bring Heaven to Earth is to combine the opposites (black and white) and come up with all the colors of the rainbow. No limitations.
May you find your flow, your heart song, and be one with the music. And may those you touch know that they have been touched by the hand of Love.
Writing this felt “meaningful!”