The age old question: What is the Meaning of life? The book on flow attempts to answer this by breaking down the different interpretations of meaning, and using each of them to ascribe some actions that we can take.
The three different interpretations of meaning are: Finality, Intentionality, and Associativity.
Meaning as Finality
To ask what is the meaning of life as a finality, we’re seeking a closure, or a summary to the entirety of the events that has transpired over the course of our life. It’s the same as finishing a book or a movie, and at the end of it asking yourself: “So what does this mean?”
To ask what is the meaning of life in terms of finality, you need to find an undercurrent that sums up the motivation behind the majority, and not all, of the actions you did in your life. The reason why it can’t be all, is due to the immaturity of the mind in adolescence, and the unclear identities as a young adult finding his place and capabilities.
The word we use to describe this undercurrent is called Purpose. What attracts and drives you? This thing should be an abstract ideal, that allows compositional actions to follow through it. As an example, the purpose is to alleviate humanity from suffering (the abstract ideal), therefore you engage in humanitarian volunteer work (compositional action).
Finding purpose is not an easy task, and some people spend their entire life reflecting upon this ideal, but never really find it. Blessed are those who find this early, and fortunate are those who find it at all. We should regularly spend time to reflect on this ideal that gives us Purpose, and that would be the “Summary” of our life.
Meaning as Intentionality
To ask what is the meaning of life as intentionality, we’re seeking the actions that we should carry out, or finding out what activities should we be doing. The meaning of basketball is to get the ball through the net. The meaning of chess is to rid of the opponent’s King. The meaning of life is to…?
He draws lesson from Pitirim Sorokin, where depending on the ‘cultural mentality’ of your surrounding, you would be motivated to pursue different things. The Ideational mentality pursues spiritual goals. The Sensate mentality pursues materialistic goals. The Idealistic is the synthesis of both, which pursues both spiritual and materialistic goals
Ultimately, the (compositional) actions you take here would be guided by the purpose you have defined above. In finding the undercurrent, you also find the actions you have to take to meet that ideal.
While purpose sets the direction of life, actions and goals are required to actualize it. Here, due to the difficulty of the task, we may be tempted to change our goals, or even question and change our purpose to an easier one. But in constantly changing our goals or purpose, we start to become confused and empty, leading a directionless life.
It is here that other values like grit and perseverance appear, where the task at hand is not pleasurable, but enjoyable. Initially, the Goals motivate the work to be done. After awhile, the work done and invested, even if they were hard, motivates reaching the goal at hand. And even if the goals were not met, the actions taken motivated by the goal still gives it meaning. “It is not the end, but the means”.
Meaning as Associativity
To ask what is the meaning of life as associativity, we’re seeking the answer to the question, what does life represent? Physiology is associated to the study of the human body. Psychology is associated with the study of the mind. Life is associated to…?
Here, we fall back to the previous two definitions of meaning, one of purpose, and the other of action. If the actions you take are associated with your purpose, you are then able to achieve harmony. Conversely, if the actions you take are not associated, or not aligned with your purpose, you would feel meaningless, and that your actions are for naught. You will not be in harmony. We are asking, “Purpose is associated to…?”, and the answers would be the actions related to the purpose.
Humans are unfortunate (or fortunate) enough be be distraught by choice and potential of desires. A comparatively non-complex being such as a dog or a lion will only be distraught by an unfulfilled biological need, such as hunger or sexual desire, but they would not be distraught at the potential of what they could be.
Therefore, humans, in meeting and addressing this distraught feeling of meeting a potential achieves a flow state, and the way to address the this is to associate your actions with your purpose, making sure they are in sync and aligned with each other. When actions and purpose are aligned, you are harmonious, or at peace with yourself.
You would commonly find people asking “What is the meaning of life” in a spiteful way, when they are doing tasks they deem meaningless. This is because their actions and their purpose are not in sync, and they are not associated with each other.
- Find a Purpose (Finality)
- Deduce the compositional Actions (Intentionality)
- Ensure that the Action and Purpose are aligned (Associativity)
There should be a constant back and forth between steps 2 and 3, as we perform an action, and we reflect on the meaning of the action if it’s aligned to our purpose.