Life-long lessons about life and its meaning based on Viktor Frankl and rabbi prof. Lord Jonathan Sacks
Many people in the West dedicate their lives to pursuing happiness. Yet, maybe we should be looking for more than just our happiness – and strive to live a life suffused with meaning.
Viktor Frankl used to say that the way to find meaning was not to ask what we want from life. Instead, we should ask what life wants from us. We are each, he said, unique: in our gifts, our abilities, our skills and talents, and in the circumstances of our life. For each of us, then, there is a task only we can do,” said Rabbi Sacks.
Sacks continued to quote Frankl: “This does not mean that we are better than others. But if we believe we are here for a reason, then they’re amending, only we can perform, a fragment of light only we can redeem, an act of kindness or courage, generosity or hospitality, even a word of encouragement or a smile, only we can perform, because we are here, in this place, at this time, facing this person at this moment in their lives.”
The question of how to live a meaningful life is central to both philosophers and laymen alike. After all, man is mortal and as the saying goes, “you only get one chance at life – so make the most out of it!”
So much of our time is spent chasing – in our personal and professional lives – living under pressure from different sources and our time is the most valuable resource. How by living responsibly can we still live a life imbued with meaning?
One very popular religious philosopher, the previous chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Prof. Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory, through his writings, speeches, and Ted talks suggested the following tips:
As Aristotle and Hegel taught us, humans are social beings. We are reliant on others around us to develop and help us reach our full potential. From where do we learn how to behave, what values we should live by, and what our goals and dreams should be?
Research has shown that the more time we spend enriching and deepening the quality of our relationships, the more chance there is that we will live a meaningful life.
“Make space in your life for the things that matter, for family and friends, love and generosity, fun and joy. Without this, you will burn out in mid-career and wonder where your life went,” said Sacks.
Rabbi Sacks often said, “A community is like a bed on a cold winter night – the more you warm it up; the more it will warm you in return.”
In our virtual age when so much time is spent online and on social media, many have detached themselves from real communities where they can interact and engage with others.
Religious frameworks have broken down, many are alone and looking to connect with others. We need to invest our efforts in establishing communities with others who share our worries and concerns. Only then, when we throw in our fate with that of the community, can we overcome our difficulties and move forward.
Sacks recommends being part of a religious community. “Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good… There is something about the tenor of relationships within a religious community that makes it the best tutorial in citizenship and good neighborliness,” said Sacks.
We also need to imbue our lives with a sense of purpose and mission – this is key to living a meaningful life. As if we are just down here to survive, what purpose is there to that?
Sacks suggest that this sense of mission can be derived from serving God and being summoned by God to make a difference.
Again, Sacks quoted Frankel: “Life is a task”, he used to say, and added, “The religious man differs from the irreligious man only by experiencing his existence not simply as a task, but as a mission.” He or she is aware of being summoned, called, by a Source. “For thousands of years, that source has been called God.”
The key to living a meaningful life is respecting and accepting the ‘other’. Learning to value others who may think differently to you is a real challenge and many are unable to. But, if one learns how to engage and live with those around them who have different values, beliefs, and ideals, then that will certainly enhance one’s ability to find meaning and purpose in life.
Sacks argues that this new thinking also sheds fresh light on the global challenges of an age of unprecedented change: economic inequality, environmental destruction, the connection between information technology and human dignity, and the structures of civil society.
The knowledge, too, that the earth is not ours, that we are temporary residents, heirs of those who came before us and guardians for those who will come after us in turn, steers us away from the destructive impulse which may sometimes come to those who have no stake in a future beyond their lifetime, ” said Sacks.
A central theme in Rabbi Sacks’ writings is that living a meaningful life is based on believing you can make a difference. However small and seemingly insignificant the act – Rabbi Sacks argues that the ripple effect of your actions will go well beyond the act itself.
“From the perspective of eternity, we may sometimes be overwhelmed by a sense of our insignificance. We are no more than a wave in the ocean, a grain of sand on the seashore, a speck of dust on the surface of infinity. Yet we are here because God wanted us to be because there is a task He wants us to perform. The search for meaning is the quest for this task,” Sacks said.
Sacks continues, “Each of us is unique. Even genetically identical twins are different. There are things only we can do, we who are what we are, in this time, this place, and these circumstances. For each of us God has a task: work to perform, a kindness to show, a gift to give, love to share, loneliness to ease, pain to heal, or broken lives to help mend.“
It is natural to live a life dedicated to the pursuit of happiness – but to obtain true happiness, one must strive to live a life of meaning.
While it may seem that it’s easier to live a life where the main pursuit is happiness – in fact, the pursuit of meaning in the longer term will lead you to live a better quality of life.
“Happiness is associated with taking, meaning with giving. Happiness is largely a matter of satisfying needs and wants. Meaning, by contrast, is about a sense of purpose in life, especially by making positive contributions to the lives of others. Happiness is largely about how you feel in the present. Meaning is about how you judge your life as a whole: past, present, and future,” said Sacks.
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