What if You Knew the Meaning of Life?

What if you discovered the meaning of life and it turned out to be exactly the kind of meaning that would make you the very happiest — make you say “Seriously? What a relief.” What would that be?

<< Close your eyes. Formulate your “too good to be true” answer.>>


And what would you do then?

<< Where would you go? What actions would you be taking? With whom?>>

Okay go ahead and do that.

Because our own Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — author of this summer’s book-club-blog-hop read — believes the meaning of life is making meaning. And you just defined your very best way of doing that!



If you came up with an answer, you really should go do it. Seriously.

But if, like me, you find it hard to choose a meaning-of-life-worthy meaning, take heart that we have company. Soren Kierkegaard said this particular flavor of existential despair is one in which the self “flounders in possibility.”

In Chapter 10 of Flow,  Mr. C echos SK’s opinion that we get to choose our own “project” (Sartre and Heidegger’s favored word for purpose), and that it’s very, very important we do so. But Mr. C proposes a criterion. I bet you can guess it:


“To approach optimal experience as closely as humanly possible, a last step in the control of consciousness is necessary… turning all life into a unified flow experience.”

You remember Mr. C’s Four Flow Fundamentals:

  • clear objectives
  • clear rules for action
  • clear feedback
  • ever-increasing distinctions/complexity/challenges

Now he’s upping the ante. He recommends linking flow experiences into an ultimate goal “compelling enough to order a lifetime’s worth of psychic energy.”

This phrase thrills me… and paralyzes me. Mr. C followed it up with a cosmic hint:

“Know thyself.”

In cribbing from my daughter’s best boy Socrates, Mr. C reveals his own secret weapon for making meaning: “extracting from the order achieved by past generations.”

We can find tons of mind-blowing ideas and reviving encouragement in music, history, art, dance, philosophy, religion, and most especially stories — myths, fairy tales, literature, dramas, and (yay!) poetry.*

We never have to start from scratch. Those who came before have our backs. Phew. That makes the YOUwork for this week a delight:

<< Wallow in your favorite-est way to enjoy our shiveringly awesome cultural inheritances. Let them have their way with you. And freely let those sensations and ideas mingle with whatever else you want. Wallow some more.>>

Meanwhile, Here’s What I Want to Know:

  • If the purpose of life is to have a purpose, then is someone with no sense of purpose “failing?”
  • Do we really choose our own purposes?
  • Do we each have (or “should” we have) one (and only one) unified purpose?
  • Do you have an exciting “assignment” going on? That’s Jean Shinoda Bolen‘s word. Martha Beck, in her new book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, calls it your rhinoceros:)

We LOVE hearing your answers and the experiences you have doing the YOUwork. I hope you’ll comment below or email me at betsypearsonpe (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thank you TONS to Coach Kanesha Lee Baynard for organizing this book-club-blog-hop and to Kayce Hughlett and Amy Steindler for their contributions. I had a blast. Though I’m glad I can still tune into my colleagues’ sites for their wisdom, I will miss our weekly collaboration even more than saying “book-club-blog-hop” or cutting-and-pasting-and-sometimes-trying-to-pronounce “Csikszentmihalyi.”

Flow on friends,


* I just signed up for Bridgette Boudreau’s Wild Life Poetry Slam. She’s guiding us through a Roger Housden anthology. BB + RS = dream come true for me. A meaning of life is SURE to follow!

This entry was posted in On the Same Page -- Book Club: "Flow" by Mihaly C.. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s