Finding life’s meaning | Inquirer News

Finding life’s meaning

I was invited by the site Life By Me to contribute to its online community.  Founded by “idea activist” Sophie Chiche, the site features people’s responses to one question:  What is most meaningful to you?

Life By Me aims to share life’s meaning, in whatever style or substance, through “stories that evoke meaningful conversations.”


What evokes the most meaning to me now?  For some time, I had to reflect on what I hold most dear, and to express it in a single word.

Goodness, peace, hope



For South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless efforts against apartheid, the word is “goodness.”  “We are all essentially good,” Tutu says.  “That is why we admire people like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela so much.  They are not powerful in the conventional way—they are not racy or macho—they are good.”

Goodness will prevail, even if combating evil entails suffering.  So how do we choose to be good?

“Trust your instincts. Trust your intuitions,” Tutu says. “Where you would have wanted to give a scathing reply, just try once to bite your tongue. One little victory helps you to get to the next victory.”

For Indian-born American wellness guru Deepak Chopra, the word is “peace.”   “Let’s resist the lure of dualities,” Chopra says.  “These include us versus them, civilized versus barbarians, good versus evil.  In reality, we’re all in the same boat of human conflict and confusion.”

To achieve peace, Chopra tells us—paradoxically—to be detached.  “Engagement and detachment aren’t opposites,” he says.  “The more engaged we become, the more detached we will have to be.  Otherwise, we’ll lose ourselves in conflict, obsessiveness, anxiety over the future, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.”

For Filipino fundraiser Jay Jaboneta, whose Yellow Boat Project inspired me and which I have written about (Nov. 28, 2011), the word is “hope.”   Jaboneta and his team raise funds to build boats to ferry public schoolchildren to school across rivers and flooded waters.


Jaboneta urges us to give hope to others.  “A lot of people don’t take the time to discover their true potential in life,” he says.  “They go about their life and work and don’t think about the bigger picture. I force myself to take a step back at regular intervals and assess whether or not I’m doing what’s meaningful.  For me, that’s helping others.”

Love, nature, sleep


For others, life’s meaning is more personal.  For American success coach Jack Canfield, whose “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series has inspired millions, the word is “love.”

“I have always had love as the guiding principle of my life,” Canfield says, “self-love, love for others, only doing work that I love, love of God, and love of life.”  Canfield started as a teacher in a Chicago inner city high school, and enjoyed interacting with students.

“The more I open my heart to people, the more magical my life becomes,” he says. The more I commit myself … to others … the more abundance pours into my life.   [Our] guiding questions are ‘How can we serve our clients and students more fully?’ and ‘How can we reach more people to serve?’ It’s never been ‘How can we make more money?’”

For American actress Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of the writer Ernest Hemingway, the word is “nature.”   “We tend to think of animals as having an innate sense of what’s going on with the Earth, but we’re animals, too,” she says.  “We have the same sensibilities as other animals, but we get wrapped up in our technological lives and forget that we need to take our shoes off and walk in the sand and the dirt.  We need to feel the energetic connection we have with the earth.  That energetic connection actually has something to teach us.”

The world is hectic, so we need to slow down.  “We each have a piece that can connect to nature so that nature can change us for the better,” she says.  When we commune with nature, we connect to ourselves.

For American media mogul Arianna Huffington, cofounder of the Huffington Post, the word is “sleep.”  She “begs to differ” with “prevailing culture [that] tells us that nothing succeeds like excess, that working 80 hours a week is better than working 70, that being plugged in 24/7 is expected, and that sleeping less and multitasking more are an express elevator to the top.”

Huffington’s health and safety have suffered from lack of sleep, so she has learned to balance her life more.  “I’ve had to learn to unplug and recharge, to trade multitasking for unitasking, and—occasionally—no-tasking,” she says.  “It’s left me healthier, happier and more able to try to make a difference in the world.”



For me, the word is “resilience.”  I think about some of my students who most inspire me, who have succeeded, despite disabilities or poverty.  They are the most resilient people I know, and their persistence, patience and determination continue to buoy me.

Then I think about my other students who break down when life gets problematic.  I don’t have answers to their questions on why life is unfair or why it hurts so much.  Instead, I try “to help my students equip themselves with mindsets and attitudes for facing life.  I help them harness the strength to complain less and act more, to blame others less and take responsibility more, to dwell less on misfortunes and more on blessings, to learn from failure and not be defeated by it.”


E-mail the author at blessbook

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