menu/ THE MEANING OF LIFE

It seems utterly obvious to me now that the terrible yearning I felt was the call of every part of myself except my intellect - body, heart, and soul - trying desperately to get me to listen to them ...

I was doing my best to follow the example of the action hero who charges onward despite the bullets lodged in every limb, the dancer who leaps through six hours of rehearsal on nothing but breath mints and willpower, the athlete who wins the championship by ignoring injuries that will cripple him for life.

It absolutely amazes me that I was so proud of my own inner deafness. It's like being proud to say that you've gone to the Grand Canyon and refused to look at the scenery, focusing instead on something like a bottle-cap or a blown-out truck tire. I am no longer proud of the fact that during my daughter's first day of life I forfeited holding her in order to finish some trivial project for some trivial experiment. I'm not proud that I spent years dulling any impulse that did not motivate me to work.
- from Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck

human moments: meaning in your everyday life

The most reliable places to find meaning and love in your everyday life are in moments that affect you emotionally and move you most deeply. I call these human moments. The most reliable places find human moments are in the connections you make. I am not referring to your business connections, of course, but to the connections of your heart. The people and the places that you love. The part of work you really care about. The children you raise and the grandchildren they may give you. The friends you trust. The pets you adore. The garden (or any pastime) that you fuss over. Even the teams you fanatically root for. All these connections lead to human moments.


We hold these moments in our hearts, long after they occur, and feed on them when we are hungry for something to lift our spirits, or simply for something that we believe in and care about.

I adopt as a credo what the poet, John Keats, wrote almost two centuries ago: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections."


That is the subject: the holiness of the heart's affections, the importance of our most heartfelt connections and the human moments they lead to every day in so many different, wonderful ways. Life is just a series of mostly forgettable events unless we love-and love in as many different ways as we can, from loving a person to a book to spirit to a place to an idea to a dog - to almost anything.

With love, we endow certain moments with a special power and significance. With love, and its cousin, imagination, we conjure up the richness and power that lies beneath the surface of even the most trivial second in our lives. By the power of love and imagination we turn ordinary, inert moments into what I call human moments, those moments when we feel connected to someone or something outside of ourselves and in the presence of what matters, what we call meaning.

Heartfelt connections and the human moments they engender are what make life good.

Of course, how we rank them changes over time. When I was in high school my vision of heaven was sitting on the third base line at Fenway Park in the ninth inning of a never-ending game that I was guaranteed the Red Sox would ultimately win. Now, my vision of heaven is sitting at a table in some restaurant where my wife Sue and my three kids (frozen in time at their current ages, eleven, eight, and five) and all my friends are eating a dinner that goes on forever. But until we get to heaven, nothing goes on forever.

We don't have time to wait. We have to make these connections matter now - these relationships, passions, and interests - if we are to draw out of them all the juice they have to give. In this country, most of us actually have what we need to be happy. The challenge is to make what we have matter - matter now, today - and matter enough.

The basic ingredients of a happy life are simple. They include friends and neighbors; relatives; some work you like; perhaps some pets; a club, or a church, or a team; maybe a garden or other passionate pastime or hobby; maybe a good book or a movie; and some hopes and memories, too. To relish the full pleasure of these connections, we have to delve deeply into them and make the most of them. We have to nourish them so they become as strong as they possibly can be.

But how?

It is one thing to say it, another to do it. I often stop and wonder if I am doing it right in my own life. For example, as a parent, I give my kids a lot of my time, but someday I probably will wish I had given more. Who can ever give their kids all the time they wish they could? There isn't that much time available, even to the idle rich (which I am not) because childhood is brief. And after our children's childhoods are over, who doesn't wish for one more day - one more sunny afternoon in the park - when our kids were young?

Anna Quindlen wrote that the biggest mistake she made as a parent is the one most parents make: I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little bit more and the getting it done a little less.

I want to urge you - and me - to learn from Anna Quindlen's words. I want to urge us not to simply nod wistfully in agreement, but to take action. I want this book to inspire us to deepen our lives, using what we've already got, not waiting until we have the mythical more money, more time, or more freedom ...

Copyright 2002 Edward M. Hallowell

Author Dr. Hallowell is a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, the author of Human Moments, and the founder and director of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Concord, Mass. For more information, visit drhallowell.com


"The meaning of life is not what happens to people."

"It's not?"

"No, it's not," I said. "The meaning of life is what happens between people."

- from Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck

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