Finding Meaning

I read David Kessler’s book Finding Meaning about a year ago, and I was revisiting my notes from it this week. Kessler writes on grief and dying, and published an HBR article on grief at the start of the pandemic. I picked up his book shortly after.

This is a fantastic book for anyone going through the loss of a loved one. But I’ve also come to believe we all suffer much more loss in life than we might admit–and the lessons from books like this can help. I thought of this book because of the sadness of everything happening in Afghanistan this week.

Here are my takeaways.

We can keep learning. Kessler writes that finding meaning is about engaging in a life enriched by the lessons of people we have loved. When someone we love is gone, we ourselves are often we are the best evidence that they existed–we can honor them by carrying forward the lessons they taught us..

Our presence helps others. Kessler talks a lot about the role of community in healing from tragedy–that rituals are important because they allow people going through tragedy to be witnessed. Simply listening and reflecting back the emotions of others can help them heal. “I hear what you are saying.” “It seems like this sadness will go on forever.” “It seems right now like all is lost.”

Time is a tool. Things change over time, and when we’re dealing with tragedy it’s easy to confuse the past, the present, and the future. We often think our sadness and grief is pervasive and permanent: it is not. Again, the feelings we have right now are not permanent; they will shift over time. Remember that things will not always be the way they are right now. Pain changes, suffering dissipates. We can choose for our life to go on.

We believe what we repeat. Kessler talks about the role of repetition and process in finding meaning. We tend to accept difficult things a little at a time, so dealing with a tragedy is a process. And, as we repeat a story, we can shift its meaning. We can figure out what is random and what is within our control. We can find the right perspective for our actions, and choose a frame of comparison. And–we know from neuroscience–that the stories we repeat become easier for us to return to, easier for us to believe.

Remember to be grateful. “Although the sun rose this morning, many people didn’t wake up to see it. Some dogs jumped on beds to find their owners had died. You didn’t just happen to wake up this morning… You woke up for a reason, and that reason is for the purpose of finding meaning in your life.”

I hope this is encouraging for you this week!

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