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.