Finding Meaning

(image via Aaron Burden)

(image via Aaron Burden)

The 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza was once asked, “How do you figure out what has meaning?” He thought about it for a moment and responded, “That’s a big question…I’ll get back to you in a year.” After one year of considering this weighty question, Spinoza returned to the man and replied, "You can track purpose and meaning by asking the following three questions for thirty days." He then offered this solution.

The first question one asks is, “What made me happy today?” It is important to note that Spinoza felt this was not a “who” question, as in who made you happy, but instead the goal is to focus on activities, task and work. This is because it is an illusion to believe that someone else can be responsible for our happiness, and that our inner joy is tied to another.

The second question is, “Where did I experience comfort, satisfaction and a deep peace today?” This is the place in our daily lives that feels effortless. It is one of perfect balance and smooth clarity. The anthropologist, Angeles Arrien refers to it as "where we neither strive nor hold back”. In this place, there is no pushing or minimizing, and the feeling is one of internal gliding, like a skater who effortlessly moves on smooth ice.

The final question is, “What or who inspired me today?” Spinoza reminds us that inspiration is a thread that leads us to both our inner creative source and the heart of what has personal meaning. It is where our human spirit is uplifted and transformed. And as the root of the word suggests, from Latin meaning, "the breath of God", our inspiration is connected to something larger than ourselves.

If you are feeling a little lost or rudderless, try this. Track these questions for one month in a journal. Take ten minutes at the end of every day to write what you have learned. You may be surprised by the results.