What makes some experiences in life seem meaningful, while others fade into the background? There is no single answer to this question but there dozens of research that explain the impact of both positive and negative experiences.
At the end of your life, you are more likely to remember those experiences that made you feel most alive.
Meaning is enduring. It connects the past to the present, and the present to the future. The more meaningful our lives feel the more joy we experience.
If you pursue a more meaningful, your life satisfaction will increase, you will improve your ability to achieve the flow state — an emotional experience in which you feel “at one” with what you’re doing.
A meaningful life has purpose, coherence, and significance.
In her book, “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters” Emily Esfahani Smithreviewed hundreds of empirical papers from the growing body of research on meaningfulness and found that the defining features of a meaningful life are connecting and contributing to something beyond the self.
“When people explain what makes their lives meaningful, they tend to describe four things: having rich relationships and bonds to others; having something worthwhile to do with their time; crafting narratives that help them understand themselves and the world they live in; and having experiences of awe and wonder” explains Smith.
Meaning allows us to transcend obstacles and difficulty because the peak emotional experience we gain is worthy and bigger than temporary setbacks. Meaning can be derived from perseverance.
The importance of intensity in building a meaningful life
Peak emotional experiences entail an overwhelming combination of several emotions at once — happiness, sadness, stress, worry, surprise, fear, disgust, interest, acceptance, appreciation, and serenity.
When you seek meaning, you acknowledge room for possibility and open yourself to new experiences that may surprise you, or help you improve your self-perception and self-discovery.
In a new paper on emotionally extreme life experiences, the researchers, Sean Murphy and Brock Bastian, explored the possibility that both extremely pleasant and extremely painful events might be especially likely to be found meaningful.
They raised the intriguing possibility that the more relevant factor in determining a meaningful experience may be the extremity of the experience, not the intrinsic attractiveness or goodness of it.
“Across three studies, they collected reports of the most significant events in people’s lives across the emotional spectrum and measured the meaningfulness of the experiences. In line with their prediction, they found that the most meaningful events were those that were extremely pleasant or extremely painful”, writes Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist, author, and popular science writer at Scientific American.
They also found that extreme activities were more meaningful in large part because of their emotional intensity and the contemplation they inspired.
“When it comes to the search for meaning, the most extreme experiences may be the best places to look,” they concluded.
Personal peak emotional experiences can happen on a smaller scale — in a subtle way, or bigger scale. In many cases, it builds up until you are overcome by a mixture of gratitude, awe, grief, fear, connection, and love.
If you embark on an adventure, overcome huge obstacles in life or make it to any final destination you set for yourself, that emotional experience of fear, desire, longing, and achievement will stay with you for the rest of your life.
In any purposeful experience that’s not all positive, it’s not the fear, worry or sadness, that is enjoyable, but the intensity of the experiencethat is enjoyable because it leads to a greater sense of meaning. You overcome obstacles but still keep moving because the end goal draws you, and the process becomes the way.
In his book, Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences, Abraham Maslow wrote about the importance of “peak experiences in life. He described them as…“rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generated an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effects…” He talked about how overcoming intense challenges and setbacks can be a key trigger for a peak experience.
We experience several rites of passage throughout our lives — graduations, marriage, births, promotions, and even funerals. As emotionally loaded as these examples are, your peak experiences can also come at unexpected moments when you are completely present, focused, and totally immersed in what makes you come alive.
Instead of picking projects, hobbies, and relationships based on how happy they will make you feel, focus on things that make your life more significant, worthwhile and bring out the best in you.
Peak moments or experiences are not one-note — happy or sad or terrifying or exhilarating only. They can be simple activities that surround you with a sense of knowing or overcoming something, and of reaching beyond yourself.
For a more meaningful life, choose your experiences carefully, and once you start pursuing them, watch out for peak moments because they will provide the closest thing you will ever feel that could be identified as oneness.
Being human is never easy. But that’s the point. We’re all built differently — but we all want to be happy and enjoy life to the fullest. Purse meaningful things that matter to you.
Originally published on Medium.
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