Three days ago I started my post with
There it is at the top of every page, right under my name:
What does value mean? What are values?
Right after “Values” up there under my name is “Meaning.”
Do I have to justify the importance of having meaning in your life and therefore of understanding the concept of meaning? The quintessential philosophical question is “what is the meaning of life?”. We all want meaning in our lives. Nobody wants their life to be meaningless.
So what does meaning mean? What makes something meaningful?
I won’t even mention the dictionary and Wikipedia content on “meaning.” Click the links if you want, or just take my word for it, if you want to understand what meaning means to improve your life and add more meaning to it, they won’t help.
Following the past three days’ posts, once you understand value in terms of emotions — that is, in terms of something you can feel directly without recourse to anything external to you — you can understand meaning.
(As with my description of values, I’ll note the following is only how I see meaning. Is it the only way to see meaning? No, but it works great for me and I think it will work for everyone. For one thing, it’s simple and based in something you can experience directly — your emotions — that no one can argue with you on. It captures the main properties of meaning — how it partly seems universal and objective but also how it seems to vary subjectively. Most of all, you can use it to understand the concept and create more meaning in your life.)
Something having meaning or being meaningful just means it has some value. In other words it means it evokes some emotions. Like value, the characteristics of something’s meaning comes from the characteristics of the emotions it evokes. So something that evokes enduring emotions has enduring meaning. Something that evokes complex or simple emotions has complex or simple meaning.
So value and meaning are closely related. You can almost get away with using one for the other. Describing something as meaningful is almost synonymous with calling it valuable. To ask about someone’s values is almost the same as asking them what they consider meaningful. Sure, there are differences, but those differences are relative fine points.
In any case, any time someone talks to you about the meaning of something, if you consider the emotions that thing evokes in you or whomever is relevant, you’ll understand that thing’s meaning.
Like values, something’s meaning is based in the emotions it evokes.
Note that our common emotional systems mean that most of us feel common emotions from similar things, leading us to see many things as having the same meaning, making some meaning seem objective. Still, we have different environments, beliefs, perceptions, and behavior, so we don’t always feel the same emotions, so many things seem to have different meanings from person to person, culture to culture, time to time, and so on.
Understanding meaning in others works that same as understanding their values, which yesterday’s post covered.
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