A meaningful life isn’t about acquiring money and other facilities; it’s about dedicating your life to helping others as much as you can. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
This quote is interesting to me because it discusses what makes life meaningful. We usually worry about happiness or success instead.
The quote starts by saying what it is not. It is not the things we usually think about doing when we want to be happy or successful. These activities might lead us to happiness or success, but not to meaningful lives.
The second half of the quote is about what he thinks is a method of helping make our lives more meaningful. The method is quite simple, and is centered on helping others.
Whether it becomes your life’s calling, or something you do from time to time, it is hard to beat the feeling of having a meaningful life.
Why is having meaning in your life important?
Let’s start with a simple question regarding you and the meaning of your life. When was the last time you considered if your life was meaningful? Did you consider how to make it meaningful, or even more meaningful? And your definition of meaningful is different than successful or happy, right?
Many of the lower forms of life have a purpose, and their only meaning is to fulfill that purpose, usually revolving around propagating the species. Humans have a different issue. We are largely self-directed, and have desires, but finding meaning can be difficult for some.
Some of you know what it is like to not know why you are here, or what you are supposed to do while you are here. While many of us have moved beyond that point, there are still those who feel they are missing something. In my experience, these people are not helping others much if at all.
Take a moment and scan through your life for the times when you had meaning in your life, and the times where it seemed to be missing. Which was the more rewarding time? How did you feel each time, and which would you prefer to have as your normal state of being? That’s an easy answer for me.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Every week, perhaps every day, there are opportunities. It could be something as trivial as opening a door or exchanging pleasantries. It could be as tough as moving to another part of the world and living with the locals and helping them towards a better life, however that is defined.
But the point is that there are opportunities everywhere. There are big ones and little ones. There are easy ones and difficult ones. There are some which happen once in a lifetime, and those which happen regularly. But in each case, there is a benefit to another when you choose to act.
Just thinking about where the other person would be without your help, that is what gives meaning to what you have done. But it is a double edged sword. All the times you have not acted, those people were not helped by you or your actions. They probably made out OK, but next time you will consider helping, right?
For the truly devoted, dedicating your life (as the quote suggests) is a great idea. However it is time consuming, and often interferes with the rest of your life. That said, you can still manage to be dedicated in some parts of your life, if you cannot devote all of it to helping others.
As an example, I donate blood on a regular basis. Yes, it takes time. And yes, I really dislike needles. But if I didn’t donate, who might have to go without a surgery or transfusion? But it is a method of helping to which I am dedicated, even if it isn’t really all that much.
Take a moment and consider all the times you have been helpful to others. What did you do each time? How many of them were one time only, like helping push a stalled car off the road? How many were a bit more predictable, like donating blood or participating in anual charity drives?
How did those acts of helping others feel to you? I know I liked it. Which of the more regular acts of helping do you like the most? What can you do to participate in such activity on a more regular basis? Is there a particular job or activity you like more than others? When will you sign up to help?
Humans are social animals, even loners like myself. We have it built in to our basic needs and values. We feel a reward from our own brain when we help another. The only question is how often we will help others, and how much help we will provide.
Ultimately, it is a personal question for each of us to answer. What will you do to help others today? This week? This month? This year? What are you willing to do to help?