meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane

From “You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.” by Emily Esfahani Smith:

There’s perhaps no better expression of that wisdom than George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”…At 700-some pages, it requires devotion and discipline, which is kind of the point. Much like a meaningful life, the completion of this book is hard won and requires effort. […]

As for Dorothea..she marries her true love…But her larger ambitions go unrealized. At first it seems that she, too, has wasted her potential. Tertius’s tragedy is that he never reconciles himself to his humdrum reality. Dorothea’s triumph is that she does.

By novel’s end, she settles into life as a wife and a mother, and becomes, Eliot writes, the “foundress of nothing.” It may be a letdown for the reader, but not for Dorothea. She pours herself into her roles as mother and wife with “beneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking out for herself.”

Looking out her window one day, she sees a family making its way down the road and realizes that she, too, is “a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.” In other words, she begins to live in the moment. Rather than succumb to the despair of thwarted dreams, she embraces her life as it is and contributes to those around her as she can.

This is Eliot’s final word on Dorothea: “Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

It’s one of the most beautiful passages in literature, and it encapsulates what a meaningful life is about: connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, in whatever humble form that may take.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

A new and growing body of research within psychology about meaningfulness confirms the wisdom of Eliot’s novel — that meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane. One research study showed that adolescents who did household chores felt a stronger sense of purpose. Why? The researchers believe it’s because they’re contributing to something bigger: their family. Another study found that cheering up a friend was an activity that created meaning in a young adult’s life. People who see their occupations as an opportunity to serve their immediate community find more meaning in their work, whether it’s an accountant helping his client or a factory worker supporting her family with a paycheck.

As students head to school this year, they should consider this: You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful like. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.

Read entire op-ed by by Emily Esfahani Smith The New York Times (September 4, 2017)

Emily Esfahani Smith is an editor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness.”


Photo of Emily Esfahani Smith: plusacumen.org

 

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this in the Times too…and it resonated with me as well. What matters most is how much we matter to this who matter the most to us.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A healthy perspective which can give a truer meaning to my multifaceted life. I may never be a great artist, but there are so many bits and pieces of my life. I love the passage “A good life is a life of goodness…”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. yes, i so agree with this. the pebble in the ocean phenomenon. no matter the size of the gesture, it will impact the larger world. it does not need to be a tsunami to have left its mark.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Easy for you to say, you are DK, financier and blogger, known on every continent.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I keep thinking about the line in The Rookie – “… it was ok to think about what you want to do until it was time to start doing what you were meant to do.” The great thing about giving up the idea of taking over the world is finding the time to take your place in it. Getting old has its advantages… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Mary Ann Gessner says:

    I’m sipping coffee while rereading this post…it must be time to say thank you again for the thought and effort it takes to put these out every day. You joke that your blog is a compulsion. Keep joking but also know it is a gift…. > > for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been. > You have an appreciation of the simple events and emotions of a simple existence…You name them for those who might walk right by them. That is your gift. Threads of your posts become my companions through the days and my life is better because of what you think to share. That is your gift to us.

    Be well…and thank you, David.

    Mary Ann

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  9. In some ways we can all be significant. Houston is a good example right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Love this David! ♡
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a beautiful post! Absolutely agree with the concept of finding purpose and beauty in the everyday gifts and experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We never know what tiny, insignificant (to us) word, act, or random being-ness will have a profound effect on another. So, living a life of goodness–to ourselves and others–is enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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