A scientific approach to a meaningful life | Joshua Hicks | TEDxTAMU | Summary and Q&A

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August 31, 2023
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A scientific approach to a meaningful life | Joshua Hicks | TEDxTAMU

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Summary

In this video, Dr. Joshua Hicks, a professor in psychological and brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, discusses the importance of meaning in life. He explains that the experience of meaning is essential for optimal human functioning, and research has shown that people who feel their lives are meaningful are less likely to be depressed, have thoughts of suicide, and more likely to be happy. He introduces the concept of the four pillars of meaning, which include coherence, purpose, mattering, and experiential appreciation. Throughout the video, he delves deeper into each of these pillars, exploring their significance and how they contribute to a meaningful life.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does research show about the relationship between the experience of meaning and psychological well-being?

Research has shown that people who feel their lives are meaningful are less likely to be depressed, have thoughts of suicide, and more likely to be happy. This relationship extends to physical well-being as well, with studies indicating that individuals who experience high levels of meaning in life are less likely to have chronic illnesses and live longer.

Q: How do different people perceive the question of meaning differently?

The question of meaning can mean different things to different people. Some individuals may believe their lives lack meaning because they don't have fulfilling goals, while others may feel a lack of meaning due to a lack of support during adversity. As a result, there is a growing movement among life scholars to examine the core elements that contribute to a meaningful life.

Q: What is the first pillar of meaning, and why is it important?

The first pillar of meaning is coherence, which refers to a sense of understanding and predictability in one's life. It provides a feeling of existential comfort, allowing individuals to believe that they have control and can make sense of their own behavior and the behavior of others. Coherence is foundational to a meaningful existence as it helps individuals maintain a sense of purpose and control over their lives. However, overthinking or personal trauma can undermine feelings of coherence and lower the overall sense of meaning.

Q: How do collective traumas, such as natural disasters and pandemics, influence people's perceptions of meaninglessness?

Collective traumas can significantly impact individuals' perceptions of meaning. For example, research conducted after Hurricane Harvey in Texas revealed that those who were able to make sense of the event reported higher levels of meaning in life. On the other hand, individuals who struggled to understand the disaster experienced lower levels of meaning. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people's sense of coherence and contributed to higher feelings of meaninglessness, especially among college students whose expectations of a traditional college experience were shattered.

Q: What is the second pillar of meaning, and how does it contribute to a meaningful life?

The second pillar of meaning is purpose, which involves having clear goals and a sense of direction in life. While many associate purpose with grand, overarching goals, purpose can also be found in daily activities and smaller, meaningful goals. Research has shown that individuals who feel a sense of purpose tend to live longer and exhibit better relationship and job commitment. However, losing a job or experiencing an empty nest syndrome can lead to a lack of purpose, highlighting the importance of consistently finding new goals throughout life.

Q: What is the significance of mattering in the pursuit of a meaningful life?

Mattering refers to feeling that one's actions have importance and are significant to the outside world. It encompasses both existential mattering, the belief that one's actions will have enduring impact beyond death, and interpersonal mattering, feeling valued and important to loved ones and the community. Mattering is closely connected to a sense of commitment and has been linked to job satisfaction, lower burnout rates in nursing, and overall well-being. Individuals who lack a sense of mattering can experience feelings of insignificance, leading to depression and anti-social behaviors.

Q: What is the fourth pillar of meaning, and how does it contribute to meaningful experiences?

The fourth pillar of meaning is experiential appreciation, which involves paying attention to and appreciating the meaningful moments and experiences in life. It focuses on the inherent beauty and value present in our surroundings and experiences. Research has found that experiential appreciation predicts levels of meaning life independently of other pillars, such as coherence, purpose, and mattering. However, experiencing depression, anxiety, or excessive stress can hinder the ability to appreciate meaningful moments. Slowing down and being mindful of the present can enhance the ability to appreciate experiences and contribute to a more meaningful existence.

Q: Why is the awareness of one's mortality considered a threat to meaning, and how can it be turned into a catalyst for a more meaningful existence?

The awareness of mortality is often seen as a threat to meaning as it reminds individuals of their finite and impermanent nature. However, many philosophers and thinkers argue that this awareness can serve as a catalyst for living a more meaningful existence. The recognition of the limited time we have can inspire individuals to start pursuing meaningful goals and living a purposeful life sooner rather than later.

Q: How can individuals make their lives more meaningful based on the four pillars discussed?

To make life more meaningful, individuals can focus on pursuing goals that align with their true passions and values. Finding a sense of purpose in daily tasks and setting new goals throughout life is also important. Additionally, cultivating a sense of mattering by investing in relationships, both on an interpersonal level with loved ones and within the larger community, can contribute to a more meaningful existence. Finally, appreciating the present moment and being mindful of the meaningful experiences that surround us can enhance the overall sense of meaning in life.

Q: What are some practical steps for individuals to incorporate the four pillars of meaning into their lives?

Incorporating the four pillars of meaning requires individuals to reflect on their goals, passions, and values, and ensure that their actions align with these. It may involve seeking support from loved ones during challenging times and actively participating in activities that make a positive impact on others. Slowing down, being present, and appreciating the beauty of everyday experiences can also contribute to a more meaningful existence. Ultimately, it is about finding a balance between pursuing personal fulfillment and connecting with others in a way that fosters a sense of purpose and mattering.

Takeaways

Dr. Joshua Hicks emphasizes the importance of meaning in life and highlights the interconnectedness of the four pillars: coherence, purpose, mattering, and experiential appreciation. These pillars shape individuals' experiences and contribute to overall well-being. Understanding and cultivating these aspects can enhance one's sense of meaning and lead to a more fulfilling and purposeful existence. By pursuing passions, setting meaningful goals, investing in relationships, and appreciating the present moment, individuals can make their lives more meaningful and leave a lasting legacy.

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