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Finding Fulfillment

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Recently I rented a canoe at a popular lake. The rental agency was extremely busy and people had to jostle with one another to get their canoes into the water. Just as I was about to embark, I spotted a father struggling with his three children and their canoe.

Recently I rented a canoe at a popular lake. The rental agency was extremely busy and people had to jostle with one another to get their canoes into the water. Just as I was about to embark, I spotted a father struggling with his three children and their canoe.

"Daddy, I'm tired. I don't want to go," said one child. "Yeah, Dad, why are we doing this?" piped in another. The exasperated man wheeled around and through clenched teeth proclaimed,

"We're doing this because it's fun. Now, not another word!"

It didn't sound like fun to me. What was the point? That's exactly the question we need to ask ourselves about life. There's no sense making the journey if we're all miserable.

Longevity is not enough. We need quality as well.

Many people manage to live long and to live well. In fact, there may be a direct link between the two. Those who report higher levels of happiness, satisfaction, and optimism live several years longer than those who don't. What's their secret? While there are no absolute answers, two critical elements may be necessary for a life well lived: relationships and meaning.

Feeling Connected

Fundamental to living a happy life is fulfilment of our need to feel connected to others in a deep and meaningful way. When we invest in others, and others invest in us, we feel as though our life matters - that it counts for something.

In a British survey 1,600 seniors were asked to date the best time of their life. The Battle of Britain topped the list. As one senior summarized, "In those times you were willing to give your life at a moment's notice to save those around you and you knew that they would do the same for you. It was a dangerous but exhilarating time to be alive. There was a deep sense of connection among us."

Feeling connected to others is critical to our sense of wholeness and happiness. Though we live in a society that stresses individual rights and privacy, much can be said in support of community and connection.

A Deep Sense of Meaning

Those who enjoy the journey of life also have a deep sense of meaning in their lives, often from religious or spiritual beliefs. Meaning provides us with a sense of direction and purpose.

Perhaps the most famous book written on this subject is Victor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning (Beacon Press, 1962). Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist confined for three years in Auschwitz. Afterward, he observed that those who had survived had found something to live by and something to live for. Their strong sense of meaning in life had given them much higher levels of stress tolerance and they were more resilient and positive about their experience of life.

Everyday we are surrounded by messages telling us about the good life. More often than not those messages are about getting more and more things. In reality, though, the good life has more to do with people and purpose than with things. It is more about giving than getting; investing rather than taking.

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