OPINION: Living a meaningful life

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Helping others … the author says service to humanity is the best work someone could do in life. Picture: entrepreneur.com

I had a chat with my son-in-law last month about our jobs (mine were years ago).

I wasn’t surprised when we shared the same sentiment about life and work: the things we do daily that don’t give us joy.

I felt relieved when I learned that he did not find his job meaningful.

The longer I pursued my career, the more I felt it was just a job.

Whenever I moved to a new company, initially, it was always exciting and fun.

But it’ll be just another job over time.

My son-in-law is grateful to be where he is now; this was his dream.

But this routine became mundane.

Life became stressful.

And he started to question himself, is this how it will be until I retire?

Every day he wakes up, shower (or not – he works from home), work for endless hours, and repeat.

When he thinks about his job, he can only think about how bleak his life is.

It’s monotonous.

But if he looks at it holistically, his job has given a lot.

He gets extremely well paid to do the job that he used to enjoy doing, is entitled to generous bonuses and the job provides financial stability – in spite of my daughter’s expensive and eclectic taste.

And these days, having a stable job is a privilege.

So why is he still complaining?

He is trapped in a luxurious castle.

He doesn’t hate to be there, because being there keeps him alive.

But it’s suffocating.

Being there doesn’t bring him joy.

I believe a lot of us feel the same thing.

Even though we are free to leave, we feel trapped.

The door is open, but we can’t leave.

These are the golden handcuffs.

I have always done my best and worked hard.

After all, everyone says that is the key to happiness.

That’s what all the books say.

So I worked hard.

I gave it my all.

My dreams and goals became my fuel.

And initially, it was great to be there.

But the feeling wore off after a few years.

Work became a chore, and life became more and more stressful.

Once you arrive at your destination, it will not be as peaceful as you thought.

Then you’ll look for something else.

That’s how I, realised, that working hard and chasing dreams won’t bring me happiness anymore.

Ultimately, the journey to finding a meaningful life is much more than that.

To live a meaningful life is to seek something you believe would make you happier.

To live a life that brings you joy.

To wake up with excitement and enthusiasm.

For some, it’s to achieve their goals and dreams.

It’s a destination that they want to go to—the place they want to be.

In the beginning, this is what most people want: fulfilling their dreams.

But a meaningful life is so much more than that.

You might find meaning in growth.

You may or may not need a goal as the destination.

But the sole purpose is to experience growth – to experience life.

Once you reach your destination, you’ll search for other things.

Because what brings you joy and excitement is the challenge of a new journey.

In other stages of life, meaning can be stability and comfort.

Not everyone pushes for growth and changes in their lives.

And some people might be happy when they have just enough.

So they seek comfort.

I know someone who was a dishwasher at a restaurant his entire life.

We seek to live comfortably, build a family, settle down, and grow old.

Most of us are not motivated to go any higher than the third stage in Maslow’s hierarchy.

A meaningful life differs for each person.

It depends on our situation, stages of life, age, and passion.

I can list down a hundred things that define a meaningful life, and you may not find it significant because it can be anything.

In the end, you are the one who knows what’s meaningful to you.

When I was offered the job as a Group HR Manager for a premier retailer, I thought it was a dream job.

But soon I started to tire of the corporate bureaucracy and the lack of desire of the organisation to be open to innovative changes.

I was confident that I could fulfil my KPIs but my hands were tied.

The key to a meaningful life is to constantly ask yourself – how am I doing and how can I do it better?

And we can ALWAYS do better.

To me now, it’s no longer about the destination.

It’s about why I am going there.

I am encouraged by the willingness of the current Government to be open to fresh ideas – to provide a more relevant and meaningful curriculum that would teach students to become responsible and productive citizens.

And I am willing to do whatever it takes for people to live a life of significance.

Viktor Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival.

Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

At the heart of his theory, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful.

His book continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living.

In my own small way, I am constantly looking to see what I can do to improve the lives of my fellow beings.

After all, service to humanity is the best work of life.

And if I have been able to succeed in making just a few people realise that they can live a better version of their selves, my life would not be in
vain.

• ARVIND MANI is a former teacher who is passionate about quality education. He lived in the US for 35 years and was actively involved in training youths to improve their speaking skills. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. He can be reached at theinspiredteacher9@gmail. com.