Wisdom//

Psychologist on Why it’s Actually Good if Our Jobs Feel Meaningless

It's normal to miss meaning in a job. Here's the bright side.

Azat Valeev / Shutterstock
Azat Valeev / Shutterstock

Alongside more material concerns, a lack of meaning invariably decays the cogs in the 9 to 5 machine.  Depending on what it is you do every day, doing it every-day will likely exhaust much of the drive that brought you and it together in the first place, assuming your lot in the workforce was ever premised by this dynamic to begin with.

Meaning can be defined in a number of different ways but we might tighten the net a bit if we focus on the manifestations that are most often implied in relation to the proletariat. In a recent BetterupLabs survey of nearly 3,000 Americans,  it was determined that nine out of 10 respondents would take a considerable pay cut if it meant being employed at a place that bettered the lives of others in some way, staffed either personal or professional growth within themselves, or provided them with a clear purpose within the company.

“To attract and retain top talent, and achieve optimal productivity, companies must build greater meaning into the workplace,” commented Alexi Robichaux, CEO of BetterUp, in a press statement. “Fostering meaningful work is emerging as a cornerstone of a more creative and conscious business world.”

Because our livings eclipse so much of our lives, it too insists on assessing our overall satisfaction. One of the worst aspects of existence is the flat ripple-less tenor of the whole thing. This element is made all the worse by a routine gig that pays our bills; a punch in punch out aesthetic; the most uninspired allusion for what a lifespan ultimately amounts to. The truth of this is really suffocating and the alternative is cruel and weakly positioned. If you’re like me you’ve attempted to exorcise the apparition by relying on the wealth of principled meditations on the subject and all of the rumbles that unpicked those thereafter, only to feel decreasingly willed the more you understood. At the end of the day, the best the cleverest minds had to say on it were riffs on live all you can, or cut your losses. To this, a psychologist by the name of Steven C. Hayes, compellingly argues against the merits of cognitive fusion in favor of playing meaninglessness at its own game.

“When we glimpse thoughts of meaninglessness and run from them, we give them extraordinary power over our lives. In effect, our own avoidant actions define thoughts of meaninglessness as important in the first place. Our own avoidance has transformed a thought into a thing that can run or even ruin our lives,” Hayes explained in a piece published in Psychology Today.

A surplus of nothing

A few stanzas into the mission statement Hayes employs for his new book, A Liberated Mind, I found myself intrigued by the doctor’s secular sensibilities.

“We need to inhale meaninglessness. We need to eat it whole – as it is (or even more precisely, as the whole of us experiences it to be), not as what it says it is,” Hayes says of the purpose of his book. “You can do that without hiding facts from view; you can do that without denial. In fact, in the modern world of science and technology that is the only way to do it.”

It’s a touch more lyrical than YOLO, it’s more akin metacognition or the process by which we think about thinking. Accept that there is no categorical meaning to be won out of our short tenure on the wet blue sphere of meh, but also consider the ways in which this isn’t much of a bad thing. It’s nothing and nothing’s best quality is its permission of anything. Fill the canvas as you will without any expectations. The thing that motivates you to get up every morning doesn’t have to have anything to do with the thing that keeps you employed at wherever, or it can if you want it to. Your reason for working hard at your firm doesn’t have to be your colleague’s reason, or even your CEO’s. When you force meaning to abdicate, its sovereignty is replaced by a democracy composed of “chosen values.”

Hayes concludes, “Chosen values are mental Kryptonite to meaninglessness. Chosen meaning sits initially unseen just on the other side of fused meaninglessness. When you let go of that useless fusion with meaninglessness, it is like turning a light on. The experience of meaning suddenly is everywhere. You see it. You feel it. You know it. When we choose to love, those we love matter to us. When we choose to show compassion toward others, their well-being becomes important. When we choose to care, life has a purpose.”

Originally published on Ladders.

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