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Meaning Episode 13


· 29:40


[00:00:00] Mark: There's a scene in Monty Python's life of Brian, where uh, two of our main characters are, uh, about to go to a stoning, and Eric Idle, uh, is a, uh, he's a legitimate stone seller and an off the sort of beaten track beard seller to the women who want to do the stonings. Before our heroes turn up, there's a, there's a woman who, who comes, uh, who comes around the corner carrying a donkey and, and the gentleman offers her a beard, you know, beard, beard madam? And she says, oh look, I haven't got time to get to know stone ins. He's not well again, Whenever I think about things that are perhaps a little bit more, as my parents might have called it deep,

[00:00:47] Anya: Mm

[00:00:47] Mark: often come back there's something so wonderful and grounding about that particular delivery because it's so unlike the whole rest of the film. The, the rest of the film is fanciful and silly, and this woman is so grounded. And ain't got time for the, for your foolishness. He's not, you know, it's, it's, it's the, he's not well, again, like, it's brilliant. And so whenever we talk about the things that we're gonna talk about today, whenever those ideas come up, I see that woman carrying her donkey. And I just think, yeah, I see you. I see you.

[00:01:20] Anya: So, uh, gentle listener, donkey's at the ready, I believe


[00:01:23] Mark: Welcome to the of happiness with only peers and me Mark Steadman. Join us as we unpack the science of happiness One letter at a time This week it's m for meaning

[00:01:40] Anya: I found a quote which says, I, I'm not sure exactly where meaning comes from if it is inherent, if it is real at all. What we do know is that humans flourish when they have it and suffer when they don't. And you know, I've been. I was trying to think about how to phrase this this morning, it does feel like life has picked me up by the ankles.

[00:02:03] Anya: It's trying to shape me upside down and, and find what will, what it can to dislodge and remove from me. I am, as the Chinese curse, has it living through interesting times, , to put it mildly. and part of that, you know, that, uh, Challenge has been working out, you know, why, why do I exist? You know, what is, what is my meaning?

[00:02:26] Anya: What was the meaning for my life? and it reminded me, actually, of when I was a kid, I had what, uh, kindly people and therapists would describe as a character building childhood. And when thinking about this topic, I had a flashback. I'm standing in our garden. I'm just kind of like looking around at what's there.

[00:02:52] Anya: So I think I might have been just about in double digits, possibly not a teenager yet, and some bad shit has just gone down for the umpteenth time. And there's a part of me that goes, oh, well this is gonna be really helpful for when I'm a.

[00:03:08] Mark: Mm-hmm.

[00:03:11] Anya: And actually being able, even at that age, to contextualize something and give it meaning. . you know, little did I know then, you know, I thought I would become some kind of fiction writer. Little did I know, you know, like, you know, 50, no 40 years, you know, onwards. In the future I'd probably be writing about trauma, which, uh, no, actually if I told my 10 year old self, that probably wouldn't have been that much, uh, of a surprise.

[00:03:39] Anya: but actually having these things, that can. give a shape to our experience. Martin Seligman ha the godfather of positive psychology in his perma model. You know, it's positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. So, you know, again, another reason why I've got to.

[00:04:00] Anya: Meaning for em, uh, just as a nod to, uh, it's kinda like the big cheese, um, to go himself. Uh, you know, he talks in his book Flourish about how a meaningful life involves feelings of belonging and some serving something bigger than yourself. And that we are all born with a deeply rooted need to find meaning.

[00:04:19] Anya: And I think it is an interesting one you. I guess, you know, some of us are search for it for, for our whole lives, other people. It's something which dawns in them as they age and mature and progress. You know, so many of us start off with, you know, trying to have the pleasant life as, as Sigma put it, you know, you know, successfully chasing positive feelings.

[00:04:43] Anya: and then, you know, once you've got to that stage you can realize, oh, you know, that's the hedonic side of Happiness. You realize, you know what, what, what am I good at? And actually wanting to have that sense of mastery, the a accomplishment and you know, deploying your signature strengths and that leads to a good life.

[00:05:01] Anya: But you know, the meaningful. Is using these capabilities and strengths to serve, as you said, you know, something larger than ourselves, and I think there's a contribution aspect to it. You know, it's almost like a, a concentric, like a drop of water, a, a ripple spreading out at the first point. It's just about you and your pleasure, and then it's kind.

[00:05:25] Anya: You and your ability to affect the things around you immediately. You know, through your mastery, your capabilities, your strengths, and then it's recognizing that we are part of a bigger pool of water. You know, how can I bring those things, those ripples, that they spread outwards further, you know, beyond my knowledge, beyond my direct connection, almost by becoming.

[00:05:55] Anya: One with the environment, one with the water, one with the society that I am, you know, uh, an intrinsic of. And, know, a little bit of research suggests that people who believe their lives have meaning are actually happier, have higher life satisfaction. I can be more engaged in their work and even have a better immune system and buffer against stress and live longer in general.

[00:06:23] Anya: So, you know, it's something which, because we have brains that have been designed to keep us safe, not make us happy, you know, we have this capacity to, to wonder and to. To come up with things and thoughts and feelings and fantasies and fears, and to know whether we are roven into our world and whether whether our thread counts to others.

[00:06:57] Mark: I thinking about that, I think about where I, how I came up and it seems that the meaning that. Was ingrained, uh, within my family was a more, I, I wanna use the word smaller, but I don't mean to diminish that, but that the meaning was about

[00:07:19] Mark: they, family sort of has the jobs that they have to support the family. And I think the meaning comes from the connection with the family and spending time and saving for the holiday and then the h like that, that is the, that is what it's about. whereas I know for me it's maybe because that's just not how my life has panned out or. what, but I think there is a, a quest, uh, need for something more.

[00:07:53] Mark: And I'm, I'm just, I'm curious about that because I think both, both are, both seem valid to me because I think you can have that, that, that good life. It's not just about hedonism. But the, the, the, the pool that you are influencing or the rip, you know, the pool that you are rippling into is maybe a little smaller, but that's where the meaning for you comes from. Is, is, is I, do my work. I put food on the table and I come home, and my meaning is the connection that I have or my ability to provide.

[00:08:24] Anya: Mm mm And that kind of makes me think of, um, Martello and ST's work. And they, you know, there's lots of different theories about, you know, meaning and meaning in life. but I've just delighted Don one cuz he's got a nice sweetheart structure. Um, and they talk about how meaning in life involves three main components, significance, purpose, and coherence. You know, and just thinking about your story now, you.

[00:08:50] Anya: the idea is, you know, you feel significant when you can contribute or make a difference, and that is really demonstrated in the story that you showed because, you know, going to work, putting food on the table, planning the holidays, there's a very tangible, the sphere of influence is very tangible. You know, you can see the effect that you're having, you know, the how that what you are doing has an.

[00:09:16] Anya: And then with purpose, you know, this idea of, you know, the neat chill line again, you know, those who ha or those who have a why to live compare with almost anyhow, you know, having these goals, this purpose, you know, people tend to use meaning and purpose interchangeably. the meaning is emotional significance of something.

[00:09:36] Anya: Whereas purpose is more goals orientated. You know, the impact we want to have and you. being able to make such a visible difference in that, in that family group is, you know, a tremendous place for, for purpose. And then this idea of coherence, I think in particular, you know, describing the connection between the past, the presence, and the future.

[00:10:05] Anya: You know, I think this is why so many people feel a sense of meaning. Their families is because it places you in a lineage, a narrative. You know, you through these actions, you are connected to your fore bears and you are setting the future ready for your future generations. You know, there's a tremendous through line there.

[00:10:29] Anya: Just, you know, naturally really, you know, you can see the passage of time in one's family. , you know, there are, there are very clear, distinctive markers and you know, if you have a good family, you know, who has a str, a strong connection, who feels coherent, you know, as a unit. You know, that is going to help you give, you know, a sense of meaning and, well, one of the , I I, I used to tell friends who have kids this, this piece of research and I'm never sure it made them, never sure it actually strengthened our friendship.

[00:11:06] Anya: but you know, there is some research years ago which suggested that people who have kids are less happy. I mean, they have less sleep, more responsibility, outgoings and like a lot of the things that we often associate with, and certainly hedonic, Happiness outta the window when you have kids, but, but they had more meaning in their lives.

[00:11:34] Anya: And I think, again, this brings back to the coherence, you know, a lot of people, you know, some people have kids just so that they can have a sense of meaning. And one of the tremendous griefs of not being able to have progeny to have, you know, the long for son or daughter is this loss of the potential, loss of meaning in the life.

[00:11:56] Anya: You know, if I can't be a mom, if I can't be a dad, what? What am I here for? You know? And so, You know, I think that takes us to our first prompt very nicely actually. You know, what gives your life meaning? What gives your life meaning? Because it is different from all of us. You know, some, for some people it is very much the family unit, for other people.

[00:12:21] Anya: And, you know, I kind of count myself in this category. work, you know, the ability to. To read and to, and to synthesize and to to share. You know, doing this podcast gives me a sense of meaning because, you know, while, look, look, I love to hold knowledge. I'm like, you know, that is like finding stuff out, finding connections between things.

[00:12:52] Anya: got too excited yesterday doing some research on, on Google Scholar about the connection between self-compassion and vaal tone. I mean, I, I need a life frankly.

[00:13:03] Mark: That's how I spend most of my Saturday nights vagal tone. It sounds like a

[00:13:09] Mark: the way, but that's just a, that's a, that's a different matter.

[00:13:12] Anya: Oh.

[00:13:13] Mark: yeah,

[00:13:14] Mark: Bit a bit

[00:13:15] Anya: label. From From, yeah. From Birmingham. Yeah.

[00:13:18] Mark: Valuable tone, please.

[00:13:19] Anya: Ah, there we go. Sorted.

[00:13:20] Mark: that.

[00:13:21] Anya: but yeah, I just, cuz for me, my work means that I am connected to something bigger than myself through learning other people's ideas and then by coming up with stuff myself and hopefully sharing and helping make other people's lives better.

[00:13:37] Anya: Cause I think it is this idea of, you know, being a part of something larger than ourselves that's kind of places us in, you know, the fabric of life gives us a sense of us having significance actually. and you know, one of the things that, you know, when I was despairing that I was introduced to by my therapist, and I think I mentioned it in the previous episodes, is the idea, the Jewish idea of took an and God knows, I'm not saying that correctly, but it's was described to me as this idea that creation isn't finished.

[00:14:18] Anya: There's little pockets of stuff that actually need, need a hand with, you know, putting up a, a fence that's fallen down. Smiling, smiling at the stranger. You know, these, just these little acts of random kindness is how they, they, they tend to be packaged. Now

[00:14:34] Mark: needs a patch every now and.

[00:14:35] Anya: it does. And you know, it kind of makes me think of the, the, what is it? The, the Powerball of, you know, the floods coming and the man sits on his roof and, you know, a guy in a. says, hi, do you want a hand? And said, no, no, it's fine. God will save me. And then like, and then like the lifeboat comes back and the water's coming and like, oh, no, no, no, it's fine.

[00:14:59] Anya: Don't worry. No, God will save me. And there's a helicopter that says, Hey, ding, just, just grab the, no, no, no, no, no. God will save me. And then of course, you know, , the unfortunate thing happens, God die. Uh, the guy dies and he's at the gates facing God going, what? What? Why I, I trusted you. Are you waiting? He said, look, yeah, like I sent you three different opportunities.

[00:15:19] Anya: I was trying to work through people. Dude, don't think God says dude, but he does in particular

[00:15:26] Anya: sh all she does or they do, you know, let's, let's not be gender biased. And so, you know, this, idea that the little, the little acts of co-creation, the little acts of conscientious. , uh, application, you know, through me, not by me. Something I often say. and I think this is something which can be found through things like volunteering.

[00:15:53] Anya: You know, research suggests that volunteering is particularly good us. And, you know, certainly, you know, today, as you know, as we're recording today, is the last day of me volunteering and being involved with organization that I've devoted my heart to. You know, the Museum of Happiness. that, you know, contributing to something bigger than myself, you know, a lot of people try and start something up and I've always been more to put my shoulder to an already existing wheel.

[00:16:22] Anya: And I think there's, it's, you know, being able to find meaning through those has been really impactful for me and has given me a sense of purpose, a sense of significance. and given me a sense of coherence. You know, I can see a through line from who I was when I started, to who I am as I'm now leaving and can see the trajectory, from one point to the other, and how that has brought many things into my life, including.

[00:16:56] Anya: You know, doing an MSC and applied positive psychology, which I will hopefully finish in three weeks time. Um, God's Willing Touch Bud, which also gives me meaning.

[00:17:08] Mark: That, dunno if that brings us onto our, to our next question, but I think the, the, the second prompt here I, I think is a, is a really interesting one. is chasing meaning, making you unhappy and that it, it, it doesn't not resonate. yeah, I mean when you were, when you were sort of outlining things earlier, I was thinking. How, when I've gone from sort of the freelance life trying to build something, uh, and, and then getting a job, it takes me usually maybe a couple of months after having the job to go, okay, what's next? Uh, what am I doing in my spare time? Um, what am I working towards? And there's always, you know, there's always something.

[00:17:53] Mark: And it invariably happens. There'll be a few months, but I'll just enjoy. the fact that I can come home and guilt-free, sit and watch TV go to the shops on a Saturday and see my friends and do a, do a life, and then that gets boring

[00:18:12] Mark: that just gets, okay, yep, that's fine. Like that's settled. Now this job, you know, doesn't necessarily give me meaning. I haven't really worked. a company where I have had that meaning, although of course it's something that companies like to try and engender in you, uh, because it helps them. Um, but it's not something I've ever really sort of felt myself. but yeah, th then, then there always comes this, this, this chase and f what this question as sort of means to me is not necessarily the direct for meaning being the problem, but, but the, or being the source of unhappiness. What goes along the way, the sacrifices that you have to make, uh, the difficult choices that you have to make, the things that you put aside, the, the, you know, the, the precarity that you might face, whatever, the, yeah, just the challenges that, that that come from, from that, that's what sort of makes me think about And, and, and I kind of keep coming back to Anna and I'll let you finish, but I keep coming back to Berkman. A. With the 4,000 weeks thing

[00:19:19] Anya: Hmm.

[00:19:20] Mark: chasing meaning a little bit like the American pursuit of Happiness is like what do you do when you've got it? the, the, the continued chase, you can so much to try and get that thing that can then, because when you get it, you tell yourself you're gonna be happy, but you are, um, you are unhappy now. And why trade? Present unhappiness for potential possible uncertain future Happiness. So those are all the things that, um, that, that appear in my brain when I, when, when, when you ask that question, aren't you

[00:19:56] Anya: Yeah. Yeah. think it is that thing of, you know, I will be happy when that's where the root of this is. You know, I'll be happy when I have, you know, I, you know, had a, had a, you know, a few conversations with someone who, Said he had, you know, a high quality problem. You know, he worked in tech and software and if he needed it, he could pull money out of his ass doing stuff.

[00:20:27] Anya: And it wasn't meaningful for him. And the thing that was really meaningful for him was, you know, helping people have transformational conversations. And for me it was a. The only thing that was stopping him from enjoying all of it was his own judgment and thinking about it. And that Juan was intrinsically better than the other.

[00:20:55] Anya: Whereas, you know, the things that he was doing Yes. To, to, to make money appear magically. Actually, no. He's working, helping, you know, a hospital he was working with, you know, he and. You know, still sitting down and looking at it going, you know, you are making an impact, a positive impact with people. You know, regardless of what you do, just by being who you are, these are just mediums through which you, you make that, that, that impact, but that, you know, neither activity actually reflects, you know, poorly on you.

[00:21:32] Anya: These are just, you know, you are. You are bringing your heart and your soul into what you do if you, if you choose to, if you want to, and you know, you can find meaning and significance in anything that you choose to. It's just that you have a particular bias towards one thing over the other. You know, I think it's, it's that thing of, you know, not wanting to.

[00:21:59] Anya: Almost for some reason, the idea of washing up comes into mind. You know, you want to make a lovely meal for someone, and yet you find it less meaningful to do the washing up afterwards, and yet all of it can be meaningful. All of it can be a way. Expressing love and care and agency in the world, all of these things can be done with love.

[00:22:30] Anya: It's just up to us to, to recognize that.

[00:22:33] Anya: And so this idea of, you know, how we can, stop chasing meaning and actually allow meaning to rise in us is, offered by the final prompt here. You know, how can you offer a sense of meaning to others? I think a lot of this is. , it's mindfulness. It's kind of like being in the present moment is actually, rather than being caught up in our head and our thinking going, this is meaningful, this is not meaningful.

[00:23:01] Anya: just, you know, starting where we are. I think that for me, has been hugely helpful. You know, again, not to belabor the point, but, you know, I'm socially isolated. I don't have much contact with people. know, I'm, I'm, I'm rarely witnessed. trying to find a sense of significance, purpose, or coherence can be a little bit challenging, yet I always have the ability to give someone else a sense of significance to let someone else.

[00:23:33] Anya: You are having this impact on me. It is positive and I appreciate it. And that then helps someone else to recognize their own purpose. You know, their own sense of coherence in their narrative. You know, getting this, this loving feedback, this loving care, and, you know, being specific about it as. The research suggests that if we say, you know, thank you to someone, yeah, that's quite nice.

[00:24:03] Anya: But if you say, you know, thank you because, and you kind of like, you break it down, you're then helping them, you know, to, to. Tie back into that moment, that situation, and to re-experience it to re-experience it through your lens of gratitude. You know, in writing a gratitude letter or even a gratitude text if you are, if it's safe, uh, and, and, and non powerless to do so.

[00:24:28] Anya: If you're not operating at a heavy machinery of a vehicle, and you're just sitting around just drinking a cup of coffee and there's someone who has made an impact on you, why? Send, them a quick text right now, just think of something that you're grateful to them for. and then give them that sense of, you know, a sense of significance.

[00:24:48] Anya: And this way, you know, you are again, demonstrating that you are in the family of things. I think, you know, breaking through that, that, of isolation and just by through the simple act of. Reaching out to another. It's, it's very much, you know, I do the and your Bingo card, John Talent Roshi, you know, attention is the most basic form of love through it, be blessed and are blessed.

[00:25:18] Anya: And I think through being the love that we want to see in the world is, for me personally, a tremendous way of giving my life meaning.

[00:25:31] Mark: I am going to take us on a weird tangent, in that I went and got my haircut yesterday. and there was, uh, a gentleman, a younger gentleman, uh, who was having his haircut and he finished before me and he was quite effusive in his thanks and, and, and grateful. And it made me realize that a lot of the time I'm not like that and it's not because I'm not grateful, And so I, I ended up giving this guy, uh, a tip. and I was a, I was just a bit more mindful and a bit more sort of, uh, yeah, effusive in my, in my thanks, because I was just, yeah, I was aware of that and I had such a lovely little spring in my step after. I really felt, I just, I, I kind of felt nice.

[00:26:17] Mark: I felt, I felt tingly. He was, he was grateful, and I was grateful and everything was lovely

[00:26:24] Anya: And I think, you know, there is this thing of, you know, we have a certain reserve. We, we, we fear being. , you know, it, it, it's everything. A lot of things in society. Hopefully it's less so now, but you know, if you want to be cool or considered cool, you're supposed to be like disinterested and, you know, not take any notice of people.

[00:26:46] Anya: It's like, screw that. , you know, get engaged, show someone that you recognize that they freaking exist,

[00:26:55] Anya: and yeah. You know, so that's, that's my little act of rebellion. Kind of

[00:27:00] Mark: like reminding people. Yeah.

[00:27:01] Anya: I can fucking see you

[00:27:03] Mark: Absolutely.

[00:27:05] Mark: bring us home?

[00:27:06] Anya: yeah. So now this, I'm going to draw on the last few paragraphs of, uh, max Ehrman's Decata from 1927, because I was trying to think of something, which would be a good way to bring this session of meaning to an end. And I do recommend you check out the whole poem, but. I mean, if I read, read the whole thing out, I've already listened to my voice for like, you know, almost half an hour.

[00:27:30] Anya: I'll be here for another 30 minutes. reading the whole thing. And so, yeah, I'd just love to leave you with this, this parting gift beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a. To be here and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should.

[00:28:02] Anya: Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams. It is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

[00:28:30] Mark: Anya and I are going to be taking ourselves a quick mid season break. So if you haven't already caught up on our previous episodes from A to L, then you can do that at A is Z of Happiness dot com. Otherwise thank you so much for being with us for this first leg of the journey and we can't wait to join you again in a few short scant weeks time. To conclude the alphabet. Take care of yourself. And we'll speak to you again very soon.

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Creators and Guests

Anya Pearse
Anya Pearse
Intuitive adviser, facilitator, and positive psychology practitioner.
Mark Steadman
Mark Steadman
Coach helping digital creatives with big feelings


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