“There is more to life than being happy.” How many people agree with that statement? As we enter into a new year, I want to draw our attention to this challenging statement – “There is more to life than being happy.” What do you think could be more important than a “happy life?” Or maybe the question should be, how do we understand what a truly happy life is?
I remember a thought-provoking talk from the best-selling author Emily Esfahani Smith, a journalist whose TED TALK “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” has been seen ten million times. In it, she detailed her research in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy which reveal FOUR PILLARS to a MEANINGFUL LIFE. A meaningful life, she highlights, is ultimately more fulfilling than a happy life. In fact, “chasing happiness [or success] often makes people more unhappy.” So, life shouldn’t be about seeking out happiness, Instead, when we strive to make life meaningful, in the end, we may discover happiness! So, how do we make life more meaningful? Well, here are her four pillars. In a meaningful life, we discover a life of:
- BELONGING, or being a part of a community where we are valued, where we are loved, where we feel welcomed, and where we truly value, love, and welcome others.
- PURPOSE, living life with a greater purpose than one’s own little desires. Breaking away from our egocentric passions and discovering a greater calling beyond ourselves. “Purpose is less about what you WANT than what you GIVE.” The deepest purpose in life is learning to live for others!
- TRANSCENDENCE, realizing that we can connect with a higher reality, experience a reality greater than ourselves!
- STORY TELLING. We all have a life story. And yet, what we perceive of our life story can change over time. We may retell the story of our own life. No matter what we’ve done wrong, how we’ve failed, whatever mistakes we’ve made, and whatever challenges we have faced, we can always reimagine and retell our story in a way that gives our life new direction and new mean. We can learn from our past, and recreate our lives in a meaningful and new way!
Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence, and Storytelling. These are the pillars of a meaningful life!
As I reflected on these four pillars which Emily Efsahani Smith discovered through her research in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, it became so obvious that our Orthodox Christian faith offers not only a very similar message, but in fact, the Church offers the perfect context to discover and live out these four pillars. And these four pillars are what I want to challenge all of us to reflect on, and strive to cultivate more and more, as we enter into the New Year of 2021.
1. BELONGING: We all need to feel a part of a loving community, and first and foremost, the Church is or should be such a loving family. The Church is the Family of God which values anyone and everyone who comes into its embrace. The Church Family is a community that cherishes and respects one another, that is open and welcoming to everyone. Unfortunately, our churches don’t always live up to this pillar so well. We don’t always welcome everyone and make all feel valued and cherished. If this is the case, we then need to remember, WHO IS THE CHURCH? The CHURCH is YOU and ME, each one of us! Don’t look at some bishop, or some priest, but remember each one of us is the church! So, the question isn’t why our churches aren’t such great places of belonging, but how do you and I make our churches better places, the perfect place for everyone to feel welcomed, cherished, and loved. Being filled with God’s grace, how can YOU and I make the church a better place of belonging? This is our first challenge for the New Year, and the first step to making our lives more meaningful! FINDING A HOME, a PLACE OF BELONGING IN THE CHURCH!
2. PURPOSE: This second pillar in a meaningful life centers on breaking away from our egocentric, me-centered worldview. We have to discover a purpose greater than ourselves. How can each one of us, in the little worlds we live in each and every day, bring love, kindness, goodness to others. How can we work at helping others, loving others, serving others in a way that changes their lives? To live a PURPOSE-CENTERED LIFE we can’t focus on what WE WANT but must learn to focus on WHAT WE CAN GIVE! What is the vision of life we can carry that goes beyond ourselves? Can we get involved in a cause for justice? In a service of love? Can we become vehicles or instruments in God’s hand of bringing his presence and peace and light into a divided, broken, dark world? Jesus clearly stated that “unless we deny ourselves and take up our crosses” we can never truly follow Him. And we take this path by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting those in prison and sick, caring for the marginalized and needy. Ultimate and lasting purpose in life comes when we learn to live for others!
3. TRANSCENDENCE: The third pillar goes right in line with our faith and the Church. A meaningful life is one that realizes life is not just what we see here on earth. Our secularized society tempts and deceives us to think that life is all about the here and now, a materialistic life whose focus is on what we see and have on this earth. A meaningful life, however, realizes that there is something greater than ourselves. Our finite, earthly lives can connect with eternity. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The Infinite Creator of the Universe became a part of His finite creation. God became human so that we humans could connect with God! Living a life of transcendence, connecting with eternity. In the New Year, may we strive to connect with the transcendent each and every day. Live life with an eternal perspective, connected to our eternal God!
4. STORY TELLING. The fourth pillar is a central part of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ preached throughout his life. What is the story of our life? We all have fallen short of the life that God calls us to. We have all failed, fallen short, missed the mark and sinned. Each of us have some brokenness in our past. Yet, our failures and shortcomings aren’t the full story in our lives. Christ has come to save the sinner and give new life to those who have died. When we allow Jesus to be at the center of our lives, He changes the story of our life. He meets the thief on the Cross in his last moments of life and changes his life story. He meets a woman married five times and changes her story. He meets the traitorous tax-collector and transforms his story. The fourth pillar of a meaningful life is remembering that we can retell the story of our life. Our life is not over, so no matter where we have fallen and failed, we can start a new chapter in our life story. Let us learn to reimagine our life story in a new way – where our life is full of belonging; where our life is full of purpose and meaning; and where our life is filled with the presence of God.
May the New Year of 2021 be one where we strive to re-understand what makes life happy by equating it with what makes life meaningful! And we make life meaningful by making it a life with BELONGING found in the Church, with PURPOSE greater than ourselves, with a connection with TRANSCENDENCE, and by reimagining our Life Story, sharing A NEW STORY in our lives!