What Does Meaning Really Add to Our Lives?

One beautiful January day during my year in Israel, my friend and I decided to walk. It was about half an hour of downhill walking to the mall where someone pointed us to the other side of the mall. We walked all the way around and were told to walk up stairs to the next street.

So we walked up a flight of stone stairs. It wasn’t your average twenty steps cement flight – it was about six sets of twenty steps each, all made of uneven Jerusalem stone. we got the to the top and then we walked up the next set of stairs.

Yes, we were charley horse for the rest of the week.

We walked up at least 6 of those sets that day.


Why did we do this?

I’m no athlete. Killing my legs and lungs is not my idea of physical pleasure. And I gained no great love from this hike. But my friend’ cousin was a student in the school that was located on the obscure street that turned out to be about a twenty minute walk from our dormitory – if you knew how to get there.

That’s why we went. Our journey had meaning.

A small meaning, yes, which required a small effort.


What gives our lives meaning?

We said in the last post about happiness: what we are willing to die for is what we are willing to live for. That’s true. But there are also in-between values that give moments meaning, without the sacrifice required by revolutionists.


We all have some values.

For example, most of us agree that we don’t want others to die. In our own ways, we let those values dictate parts of our lives. Some of us simply live with the knowledge that we would save a live if presented with the opportunity. If we saw someone dying in the street, we say, we’d call 911 and perhaps do CPR. Some people want to do more. One person might actively fight the death penalty; an attorney might take a capital case pro bono. A doctor may lower a fee or work another hour to save a patient; emergency responders (especially volunteer, such as Hatzalah) may interrupt family events to save lives.

Whatever our choice, the values that we choose to live with are those that grant meaning to the extent that we allow them. And just like materialism requires a certain amount of effort to benefit from it (working for money, sweating for athleticism), and just like love requires vulnerability and sacrifice, living with meaning requires making it a part of our lives in a way that makes it inseparable. Only then does it have true meaning.

In the last post, we spoke about the man who found close to $100,000 in a second-hand desk and returned it to the owner. That man was a religious Jew who told the media that he responded to a Higher Authority. Perhaps that was the meaning that gave him the strength to do something so awesome but impossible.


Some people will say that meaning doesn’t breed happiness.

For example, in this article on Scientific American, Scott Barry Kaufman says that meaning and happiness do not necessarily correlate at the same time but that meaning eventually does bring happiness. For example, parents generally state their lives are more meaningful but are less happy when they’re raising their children. While anyone confronted by the struggles of raising happy and accomplished children can understand that, I would say that it’s all about your focus. Like we’ve said enough times – if you focus on the sweat, you won’t feel the gold medal. If you focus on the tremendous effort it takes to live with meaning, you’ll feel resentful of the burden your values are. But if you can focus on the tremendous benefit of meaning – the pleasure of feeling good and doing right, you’ll have happiness.

Try it! And all feedback is welcome below or by contacting me anytime 🙂

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