How Do You Sustain Meaning In Life?

This past weekend proved to be one of those glorious Northern California wonders, and happily, I was in just the right place for it: Western Sonoma County. A perfect fall episode.100_0494

Brilliant Sun. Dazzling blue sky. Towering redwoods. Shimmering waves. An almost full moon.

And I mustn’t forget the charming little villages. Brigadoon-like places you stumble upon after driving a winding country lane. They seem to appear almost magically, popping up among the surrounding hills and trees. It’s not a big leap for me to imagine they’ve been asleep just in that moment before I arrived. And are ready to embrace me fully, insisting I stay with them for another hundred years.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I had a marvelous weekend! A weekend full of meaning.


It’s easy for me to create meaning in a place such as this, because when I’m surrounded by so much beauty, I am fully in my life. Walking on trails that pass through fields and vineyards. Having long soulful conversations with my husband while looking at the sea. Cooking simple meals.

Sometimes, though, daily life makes it difficult for me to sustain meaning. So I thought it rather serendipitous that on this sparkling, meaning-filled weekend, I actually had some insights about this, thanks to Eric Maisel.

Maisel is an author, therapist, and coach who works in the areas of creativity, meaning, and purpose. And lately I’ve been listening to his podcasts on The Purpose Centered Life.

One of Maisel’s most interesting assertions is that those people who place an exceptionally high value on meaning making are also the most at risk for meaning crises. In other words, if I have a great desire for a life filled with purpose and meaning (and I do), then it’s likely I’ll suffer more than my share of angst because the expeditious world around me will often seem meaningless.

I think Maisel is right. I also think I’ve experienced what he’s talking about. But I never could put it into words. And although I work with others to create more meaningful lives, as well as write about meaning, it had never fully registered with me that some of us must actually work harder at making meaning.

Because if we don’t we’re in danger of falling, and the resulting injuries may be more like deep cuts than skinned knees.

In particular, Maisel discusses how creative people tend to face this challenge of meaning. As I sift through these ideas, though, I recognize that I’ve noticed this in others who might not claim the role of artist or creative. I’m talking about people who are highly sensitive, emotionally attuned, spiritual seekers, and the like.

So for all of us who hold meaning in high regard, it’s not enough to ask, “How do I create a meaningful life?” We must also explore how to sustain the meaning we’ve created. How to solidify it and continue to hold it close in the face of life’s quirks and quandaries.

As always, I would love to have you join in the conversation about this topic:

  • Do you believe that some of us have to work harder to create a meaningful life?
  • How do you personally create and sustain meaning in your own life?
  • What actions do you take if you experience a crisis of meaning?



19 thoughts on “How Do You Sustain Meaning In Life?

  1. Hi Patty,
    Great post and I like your other topics, too. Eric Maisel is such a smart person when it comes to helping us all make more meaning in our lives. I had the pleasure of studying with him in 2004.
    Come visit me when you get a chance. I’m a creativity coach, professor, yoga teacher and write a blog, ‘The Practice of Creativity’:

    Michele Tracy Berger

    • Hi Michele – Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your comments and it sounds like we have a lot in common. I’m off to bed now, but when I’m more rested I’ll definitely hop on over to your place.

  2. you know, the meaning of life is the absense of meaning. really! everyone tries to find an answer to the question “what is the meaning of our life?” but what is the meaning? kids? hm.. who knows… anyway we’ll pass away, all of us….

    • Hi Givenchance – Thanks for visiting and joining the conversation. Actually, Eric Maisel says it doesn’t do us much good to ask what the meaning of life is, because like you say we’ll never truly be able to answer the question. Rather, he proposes we ask a more personal question, such as what do I want the meaning of MY life to be? And then we take actions and seek experiences to create and sustain that meaning. This idea has played out in my life and the lives of my clients.

  3. Hi Patty! First, I love Sonoma and all the little towns around it. We’re so lucky to be amid all this beauty, aren’t we?!

    My short answer to your question (the title of your article) is through engagement and participation. I respond to invitations when I can, I initiate interaction or involvement, I tune in to what interests me and I satisfy my curiosity as best I can. The abundance of potential for meaning can be overwhelming at times, and when it gets to be too much, then I just let myself be (sometimes in Sonoma or Marin county!).

    • Hi Belinda – You nailed it (of course!). Sometimes the abundance of potential meaning is overwhelming, so instead of choosing we do nothing. I just had that conversation with a client today. I’m also so glad you talked more about place. For me it’s a key part of sustaining meaning: that sense of belonging. And as wonderful as Sacramento can be, my place is the Bay Area. If I could spend all my time there I would!

  4. Before we ‘scratch our heads hard’about life’s meaning,have we thought of the opposite of life…that is death…it seems ,we live for only a moment but die for eternity.people who lived in 1900 have never come back…maybe the meaning of life is really beyond us just like,its beyond us to decide to be born,its beyond us to decide life’s natural end .However much we study,meditate…there seems something beyond us..something which holds the essence of life..
    Whatever it is ,it must be something divine,supreme…and certainly it must be God,science is so limited..that is why it can be proved…but life’s source can’t be proved or measured because it beyond human nature.

    • Hi Superhare – Sounds like meaning for you comes from knowing that there’s something greater than you. Thanks for visiting and joining the conversation.

  5. Hi Patty. Interesting topic. I think we sometimes get to caught up in searching for meaning. Sometimes it’s better to just sit back and enjoy our ride through life. I suppose that puts me at less risk of a “meaning crisis.” Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that one give up control, but rather steer the ship in the right direction, and enjoy the journey rather than focusing too much attention on the destination. In this method, I think that meaning creates itself, because each step in the journey is meaningful.

    • Hi Eric – I think you’ve hit on something really important. Being in process mode, unhooking from outcomes, leads to many more meaning making opportunities, because EVERYTHING has the potential to be filled with meaning. Very wise. Thanks for your comments.

  6. Life is different. Defining it is not just a matter of tying together a
    collection of concepts. When people try to define life, they choose a few of the
    features of living things and make them the very essence of life. And that is a mistake. People don’t want to know what the word life means to us…
    We want to know what life is

    • Hi Nolpol – Welcome. I’m glad you stopped by. I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but I see a huge need for people to move from concept to experience. Both are important, but we get stuck in conceptualizing. Also, interesting distinction you make between the word “life” and knowing what life is. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Hi Patty
    Searching for the meaning of life can mean you do not see what is right in front of you. For me meaning of life means living in the here and now and finding through my experiences an explanation for life and then live it in the best way I can with as little worry as I can muster.
    I love those little holidays away from it all as you just had and being surrounded by beauty. Who wants to think about meaning when all this is begging you to be present and enjoy this beauty.
    Love Wilma

    • Hi Wilma – Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you, it can be a fruitless quest to search for meaning, but often that’s how people approach it, rather than looking at what’s in front of them and creating it. And as you say, experiences are key, because there’s a big difference between meaning making and meaning searching. Experience and action nourish our need for meaning!

  8. Hello Patty, you have a wonderful spirit and I enjoyed reading that post.

    Meaning for me is acceptance and choice. Firstly, accepting all that life is in the now both mundane at time and exciting. If something no longer holds importance anymore, I just choose again

    Meaning in many ways from my perspective is given by ourselves in relation to our current values and which ones are more important to us according to the beliefs that we hold.

    • Hi Jon – Welcome, so glad you dropped by! Well put, about both acceptance and choice. On the face of it, seems so easy to do, yet so often people don’t perceive they actually do have a choice. And I fully agree about the values connection. In fact, I plan to write more about that next week. Thanks much for joining the conversation.

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