Defining Meaningful

It’s the catch phrase of our times and a long over due one at that. But like all good things it’s actually nothing new, some rather canny people have for many years, if not centuries, known that life is not just about a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, and the £££ in our hands.

But now, for some reason, ‘meaningful’ has become of worldwide significance, no longer just the precious domain of the ‘hippy few. I romantically like to believe this is a gentle shift from the values of capitalism and the limiting drudgery of lives (and systems) as industrial, mechanistic machines, to those that are about the ways our souls and our hearts- and those of our places- connect to the world.

Now meaningful has become important.

No longer is life just to be had, work to be done or change simply to be made. Now with the word ‘meaningful’ we state that we as human beings need so much more.

We are so much more than just our existence.

The internet (and thus I propose the entire world), is full of coaches, leadership gurus, systems-thinkers, psychologists, religious leaders, politicians and oh, so many more people, telling us how to make meaningful change and the importance of enabling people to lead meaningful lives.

While in attempting definition, the Oxford dictionary defines meaningful as ‘having meaning’ or as something that is ‘serious, important or worthwhile’.

Wikipedia on the other hand define a meaningful life as ‘a broad term encompassing a varied number of definitions having to do with the pursuit of life satisfaction’.

And I’ll not even go into meaningful chocolate, or meaningful mathematics, or the question of what is meaningful use? And then of course we have meaningful learning, or questions such as; is happiness different to meaningful? And what about the role of self-actualisation?

Perhaps the best definition comes from the work of Viktor Frankl, who suggested that the core of creating meaning is in creating value.

But all of these explorations and attempts at definition don’t really answer at all. And perhaps they can’t. In attempting to answer they simply create more questions. What is value? What is satisfaction? What is serious? Worthwhile? What is meaning?

Meaningful it seems is as elusive to define, as it is to create. Maybe the trouble is that what is meaningful is deeply personal and thus entirely subjective.

And, perhaps more important than defining meaningful is our intent in our use of the word.

I hear this trendy, must have word, being somewhat carelessly and dutifully handed around, with what often feels to be hap-hazardous care for its soul and its significance to our hearts. I wonder; has it become simply a word that must be included in our aims, proposals and statements of intent?

Does it actually mean anything at all?

So I ask you: What is meaningful anyway? What does it mean to you and your change?

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