‘Meaning’ through ‘Being’

Martin Seligman describes Meaning as the third pathway to happiness, where meaning comes from pursuing goals and purpose beyond oneself. He also claims that — unlike the pleasant life — the meaningful life has no set range, and thus is not limited by an individual’s inherent ability to feel good, an ability that varies widely from person to person.

People at my age tend to think we achieve meaning by doing something, working toward some larger human purpose — whether that be making institutions run well for people or developing a deep spiritual life that influences others or opposing injustice or preserving the environment or …

Being with my mother has made me think a little differently about meaning. My mother made the comment that there’s no real reason for her to go on living — she doesn’t serve any particular purpose, and she finds herself looking for things to pass the time. That made me think that meaning doesn’t come only from doing. We don’t expect babies to do anything, but they create an aura of meaning all around them. Isn’t that true also of people who get very old? They achieve meaning by being — being centers of families, giving others a chance to experience meaning by caring for them, holding family memories that others may be able to learn, maybe even just being there to give others a chance to make peace with them.

Perhaps the discussion of meaning is so oriented toward doing because the people who write about it are in the doing phase of life.



Filed under Meaning

5 responses to “‘Meaning’ through ‘Being’

  1. Thanks for this. A good reminder.

  2. Lisa

    Meaning through Being – Your insights have inspired this metaphor:

    Elderly relatives are the Centerpiece of a family. Like a bouquet of flowers in the center of a banquet table, they are sniffed, touched and admired just for being there.

    Tell your mother her presence in your life is like an exquisite bouquet of flowers savored and admired. Her place in your world in right smack in the center of your heart.

    When you get home, buy yourself a bouquet of flowers that symbolize your mother. Take photos of the bouquets and send them to her.

    If my own mother was alive, she’d be a bouquet of lilacs. My mother-in-law would be a bromeliad and my father-in-law, a branch of bougainvillea. My heart is full of sentimental centerpieces of loved one past and present.

  3. Kathryn

    What an interesting metaphor! We don’t require flowers to be anything but beautiful and perhaps fragrant.

  4. There’s a lot to be said for being able to be in the moment and enjoy it, rather than looking for achievement to bestow meaning on life. But I’m thinking that maybe your mother does need some more sense that she’s valuable. That’s often achieved through doing — cultivating a special relationship with grandkids, delivering Meals on Wheels, or whatever. Don’t they say that one of the best routes to happiness is through doing for others? Maybe that’s a necessary route to feeling that one’s existence is meaningful.

  5. Thanks for this reminder. For more on meaning through being please check out my Meaning Blog and articles posted at


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