Writing your Own Eulogy

A visualization technique that asks people to write their own eulogy. It’s a technique that Daniel Harkavy, CEO and executive coach at Building Champions and co-author of Living Forward, has been teaching executives for over 20 years.

Harkavy’s tip is to write your eulogy first as if your funeral was today and everything you’ve accomplished so far was all you ever would. “Picture your memorial service as if it were being held right now. Your casket is sitting center stage, and as you look down the center aisle you see the first three rows, usually reserved for those with whom we were closest. Who’s sitting there for you?” he asks. “Most likely your family and dearest friends. Now keep looking down the aisle, and now you’re looking at rows 10 through 20. Who’s sitting there? Probably acquaintances, clients, customers. What did you give to the people in these rows?”

Harkavy says when he walks clients through this exercise during his speaking engagements, they usually all say the same thing: “We gave them our best!” He then asks them what they gave to the people sitting in rows one through three–and their answers usually amount to “We gave them our leftovers.” In other words, their work-life balance is out of whack.

“When you go to write your eulogy, you need to be brutally honest. Don’t pull any punches. You want to really feel this,” Harkavy says. “What would those closest to you say about who you were, how you lived, and what you had to give them, and why would they say that?”

Michael Grothaus writing in Fast Company

a world without meaning

We labor for our children and our children's children, but someday, in the remote future or, even sooner, as a result of man's fearful capacity to destroy himself, there will be no more children. That our earth will one day be wholly unfit for the continuation of our enterprise is as certain as any of our predictions can be.

Some day, if our present judgments are at all correct, the works of man will be as though they had never been. An earth as cold and lifeless as the moon will revolve around a dying sun.

What difference will it then make whether the Hungarians were courageous in the face of cruel invasion and whether hungry men, in concentration camps, shared their poor food with still hungrier and sicker prisoners?

What difference will it then make whether we now try to be intellectually honest, to face the negative evidence along with the positive, and whether we strive to make our world a scene of just peace?

Duty and love will be meaningless when there is no one to love and none to remember.

Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion

Want to Live Longer? Have a purpose!

People with a greater sense of purpose and direction in life were outliving their peers 14 years later. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Canada’s Carleton University compared those who said they were “wandering aimlessly through life” to those who said they considered the future in their decision making and felt they had more to do. The people with purpose lived longer, regardless of when they found that purpose. Lead author of the study, Carleton University psychology professor Patrick Hill told the Ottawa Citizen, “To have a purpose in life reflects that you have broader, lifelong goals that serve to direct and organize your day-to-day activities and things that you value.” You can find the study in the July 2014 issue of the Journal Psychological Science.

Clothed with Happiness

In Bermuda, Johnny Barnes decided to put on a prodigal display in 1986. He would stand at the Crow Lane roundabout in Hamilton, where most of the rush-hour traffic came past, and tell each passing motorist how sweet life was and how much he loved them. His days had long overflowed with happiness, in his garden and in his jobs as a railway electrician and a bus-driver, where he had taken up the habit of waving and smiling to anyone who passed as he ate his lunchtime sandwiches. He had lavished joy on his wife Belvina, “covering her with honey”, as he put it. But there was plenty left over.

For 30 years he went to the roundabout every weekday morning. He would rise at around 3am, walk two miles to his post, stay for six hours shouting “I love you!”, smiling and blowing kisses, and then walk home again. He was there in the heat, his wide-brimmed straw hat keeping off the sun, and there in the rain with his umbrella. Only storms deterred him and eventually, the creakings of old age… Over the years, he transmitted his radiant happiness to drivers hundreds of thousands of times.

Johnny Barnes, Bermuda’s “greeter” died on July 9th at the age of aged 93. Read more in The Economist.

what pain does to us

Pain humbles the proud. It softens the stubborn. It melts the hard. Silently and relentlessly, it wins battles deep within the lonely soul. The heart alone knows its own sorrow, and not another person can fully share in it. Pain operates alone; it needs no assistance. It communicates its own message whether to statesman or servant, preacher or prodigal, mother or child. By staying, it refuses to be ignored. By hurting, it reduces its victim to profound depths of anguish. And it is at that anguishing point that the sufferer either submits and learns, developing maturity and character; or resists and becomes embittered, swamped by self-pity, smothered by self-will.

I have tried and cannot find, either in Scripture or history, a strong-willed individual whom God used greatly until He allowed them to be hurt deeply.

Charles Swindoll, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns

Maintaining

It’s the maintenance of life, the plumbing of life that we sometimes slip into and forget the prose and poetry. It’s easier to make lists, it’s easier to call the plumber, its easier to wonder why the car doesn’t work, and spend our life, worrying about the plumbing. And one day at 50 we wake up and say, “Why is there no juice? Why is there no joy? Why is there no pleasure?”

Roger Fransecky, Apogee Group

The Purpose of a Spouse

A consistent characteristic of imperative people is the desire to persuade others to be just like them. When encouraged to look back to their childhoods, most imperative people can recall a history of strong persuasion. The parents have been so intent on keeping order that their behavior said, “If I can get you to behave in my world, there will be order.” Developmental years were full of relationships that featured arm-twisting, intimidation, or threats.

Jack told me that he had learned early on that it was not safe to be vulnerable. He told me, “I remember a scene when I was only five or six years old. I had just stepped onto the back porch of our home to set something outside when a very loud clap of thunder sounded. Scared to death, I ran indoors, where my father grabbed me and told me to quit acting so ridiculous. Then my mother scolded me for upsetting my father. I was immediately defensive and told them they were both mean. The next thing I knew, I was smarting from a spanking.”

“In a sense you were in school at times like that.” I said, “You witnessed how effectively they persuaded you to be what they wanted, so you eventually learned to do likewise with your family.”

While it is a good thing to express opinions (as opposed to repressing them), it is not healthy for us to become bossy or condescending or explosive in order to get our way.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Ultimate Reality

Is the universe an impersonal mass of energy functioning according to a set of unbending laws? An illusion? A collection tradition built on our relative perspective of the world? The random result of a primordial cosmic sneeze? The purposeful work of a master Designer? Or something else altogether? Not all of these options can be true, so we have to make choices.

First, how does God communicate his ethical desire? Are God’s demands somehow imprinted in our minds at birth, so that knowledge of right and wrong is something like an intuition? Perhaps God’s will comes to us through nature, and we pick it up through careful observation and processing of the world around us. Maybe God sends the message through Scripture or his church. Or perhaps the means by which God communicates his truth is more like a story that gives us a new identity. Ethical theory involves discussion of how we gain moral knowledge, and where we come out on this decision will determine the source we look to for authority.

A number of ethical theories we will consider might be called “God-optional.” They can accommodate belief in God, but they may be (and often are) outlined without any mention of God.

If a person believes that God does not exist or that God’s existence is irrelevant to ethics, this opens the issue of where right and wrong come from. If we reject God as the ultimate reality, we eliminate one possibility of explaining the origin of right and wrong, and will need to decide among the remaining options. Is human thought the most fundamental reality of the universe? If so, does something become right by our determining it to be right or by collective decision?

Or we may conclude that traditional ways of thinking about ethics are wrong-headed. Perhaps right and wrong are words we use to modify the actions of people. Nothing is actually good or bad in a moral sense. These are simply labels we attach to actions we want to encourage or discourage. In short, we need to recognize that in every ethical system there is a connection between a concept of ultimate reality and the origin of right and wrong.

Getting the right answer depends on asking the right question.

Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

givers and takers

"Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others," explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of a study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania.

In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need," the researchers write. What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologists at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003.

The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life "you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self."

For instance, having more meaning in one's life was associated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing. People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people. Having children, for example, is associated with the meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but it has been famously associated with low happiness among parents, including the ones in this study.


Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Meaning in suffering

Having negative events happen to you decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life, according to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. "If there is meaning in life at all," Frankl wrote, "then there must be meaning in suffering." 

Emily Esfahani Smith Writing in The Atlantic

Transcending the Present

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Givers and Takers

"Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others," explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of a study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania.

In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need," the researchers write. What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologists at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003.

The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life "you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self."

For instance, having more meaning in one's life was associated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing. People whose lives have high levels of meaning often actively seek meaning out even when they know it will come at the expense of happiness. Because they have invested themselves in something bigger than themselves, they also worry more and have higher levels of stress and anxiety in their lives than happy people. Having children, for example, is associated with the meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but it has been famously associated with low happiness among parents, including the ones in this study.

Emily Esfahani Smith, writing in The Atlantic

Knowing the Why

Viktor Frankl worked as a therapist in the Nazi concentration camps, and in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” For one man, it was his young child, who was then living in a foreign country. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Happiness without meaning

In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables -- like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children -- over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver."   "Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the authors write.  

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

the meaning of life

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”

Emily Esfahani Smith
Writing in The Atlantic