Finding Meaning in Your Life

Finding MeaningIf  you got to this page because you were searching for an article on finding meaning, chances are you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life in some way, as if it should be more than it is.

Maybe you’re lonely or feeling empty, or insignificant.  That’s what meaning is, a feeling of personal significance, a feeling that your life matters, that you’re important in some way.

You are.  You do.   That’s the bottom line.

Need more convincing?  Read on.

Four Things to Know About Meaning

First of all, you’re not alone in looking for meaning in your life.  All the Big Brains who study and research and contemplate meaning agree that, on some level, every single one of us searches for it.  We all want to know that there’s some purpose for our being here.

Meaning, says psychologist Michael F. Steger, Ph.D., lets us make sense of our lives and lets us live purposefully in the world.  “Meaning,” he says, “is a unique expression of what makes us human, and what makes us great when we’re at our best.  The data from four decades of research are clear, meaning matters.”

Secondly, you matter to you If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be looking for answers.  You wouldn’t care about relieving the pain of your loneliness, or your dissatisfaction, or your sense of insignificance.  Let yourself say this to the person reading these words:  “I matter to me.”

You’re important to yourself, too.  You’ve set everything else aside right now just to search for some understanding, comfort and healing.  You’ve let yourself be your top priority.  Own it: “I’m important to me.”

A third thing to know about meaning is that it isn’t the same thing as happiness, or success, or fulfillment, or being loved.   You can experience your life as meaningful even in the midst of great sadness, or failure, or loneliness, or pain.  You still matter; you’re still important.  There’s still a reason for your being.

“But what is that reason?” you may cry back to me.

Well, that’s where things get a little complicated.  I can tell you my personal answer and I can tell you about the reasons that others have suggested, but in the end, you have to discover your answer for yourself.  Because the final thing to know about your life’s meaning is that it’s personalized.  Your reason for being may be the same as mine.  But it may be different, too.  You get to decide.   Meaning isn’t something that the outside world gives you.  It’s something that your life offers you through the living of it.

How to Find Your Meaning

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist from the last century who probably thought about meaning more than anybody else ever has, said that we can find meaning in three ways.

The first way is through creating something or doing some kind of activity or work.   The second way is through engagement with the world or with another person.  And the third way is by taking an attitude of defiance toward suffering.

Defiance Toward Suffering

Let’s start with the last one first.  If you’re suffering, just by finding this article you were exercising your defiance of your pain.  You had already made up your mind not to let it rob you of your meaning.   You had chosen to rise above your pain, to be greater than it.  And you were doing more than that, too.  You were exercising courage and the will to keep on keeping on.  Both of those qualities are personal strengths and clues to what gives your life meaning.  You’re saying, “I’m important to me.  I matter.”

I knew a woman who suffered from an incurable disease that slowly paralyzed her body.  When it forced her to retire from her work, she vowed that she would do at least one useful or creative thing every day.  And she did, and it gave her life meaning.

Toward the end, the only creative thing she could do was smile.  And she did that, too, every day.

She used her ability to accomplish something to defy her pain and suffering.  What a valiant spirit!

Finding Meaning through Work and Activity

In his beautiful  article on finding meaning through work and activity, minister Lee Woofenden offers this explanation for the way that our work contributes to our life’s meaning:

“…our most real and human aspect is the love and understanding that forms our mind or spirit. This is what makes us truly human. And the world of our thoughts and feelings is the one that we inhabit most intensely and deeply.

“And yet . . . if our thoughts and feelings have no means of expression, they also lack a certain sense of reality. It is not enough for us to simply feel strong feelings and think enlightened thoughts. We humans have an innate drive to express those thoughts and feelings through our words and actions, and in our relationships with our environment and our fellow human beings.”

It’s the physical expression of our inner spirit, Woofenden says, that allows us to feel fulfilled.

I heartily invite you to read his entire article for deeper insight.

“Work” doesn’t necessarily mean the job you do for a living, of course.  It can mean gardening, washing the car, or sweeping the floor.  But it does also mean your job.  And if you think that what you do for a living isn’t meaningful, you might benefit from looking at it a little differently.  Try seeing how what you do fits into the bigger picture, how it has its place in a complex organization that, in some way, helps your fellow man.

Whatever work you’re doing, the more of yourself you can put into it, the more meaningful it will be for you.

Engaging with Life and People

Psychologists who are studying the ways that a sense of meaning shows up in our lives are discovering that when you ask people what was meaningful to them in the past couple of days, they’ll name times when they were doing things they enjoyed, whether that was a solitary hobby or having lunch with a friend.

It’s often the moments of simple pleasure that make our lives feel worthwhile.

“Finding meaning in life can be exciting when you bestow loving focus, attention and care on to what you do,” writes Naveena Gerrits  in her wonderfully helpful article on engaging in meaningful activities.

She provides a big clue to extracting meaning in that sentence: give your activities your loving focus, attention and care.

Doing that will keep you rooted in the present and help you enter the flow state, that space where you’re so engaged that you lose all track of time.

If you want to find a path to meaning that suits your personality and style, Gerrits’ article is a fabulous place to go for suggestions.  She lists dozens and dozens of activities you might explore, broken down into the headings:

  • Creative Forms of Expression
  • Hobbies  – Work – Career
  • Ethics – Contribution – Society
  • Environment – Nature – Cosmos
  • Relationships – Family – Home
  • Spirituality – Religion – Philosophy

The Ultimate Meaning

Throughout the ages, humans have been trying to find the meaning of life.  The ultimate reason for our being is one of life’s ultimate mysteries.  The answer you choose to the question, “Why are we here?” like the answer to finding the meaning in your own life, is a personal matter and depends, in large part, on your spiritual or philosophical orientation.

You may even decide that, because it has no one-size-fits-all answer, the only honest answer is “Beats me!”  It’s too big a question for most of us.

But “What makes my life worthwhile?” is a question that hits home for us all.  Your answer may change as your life changes.  You may find it in relationships today, in your work tomorrow, or in overcoming suffering at some point along the way.  Think of discovering the meaning in your life as a day by day adventure.

Every day, try to do something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, achievement, relatedness, contribution or pleasure.  Let your personal interests guide you in finding them and experiment from time to time with new things.  You can print out a copy of Gerrit’s list or bookmark it and review it every now and then for ideas.

Increase the attention you give to your health, too – to the quality of your nutrition, to giving yourself adequate amounts of hydration, exercise and sleep.   The healthier you are, the easier it is to feel zest for life.

Take the VIA (Values in Action) Survey and learn what your highest personal strengths are.  Then find ways that you can use them more often and in different applications in your life.

Try keeping a gratitude journal to increase your awareness of the things that let you feel good about being alive today.

And every day, tell yourself “I’m important to me.  I matter.”  Because you are, and you do.

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Our site has a wealth of articles that can help you live a more meaningful, flourishing life.  Browse through the topics in the Article Index while you’re here and see all that’s available to you. And pick up a copy of our free Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well Being for more easy and powerful ways to enrich your life.  Just fill in your email at the top right of this page.

 

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Living with Heart: Hope, Optimism and Future-Mindedness

Hope
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”  ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

 

Of all the character strengths, one of my very favorites is the strength of “hope, optimism, and future-mindedness.”   When you have hope, when you believe there’s a reason to keep on, your life takes on a luster and an energy that encourages you even on the darkest days.

I’m talking about hope as a noun, a state of being.  Yes, sometimes it has an object attached to it and acts like a verb:  I hope he wins.  I hope it doesn’t rain.  But even then, what we’re really saying is that we have hope inside us, that it’s active in our lives.

Hope is a kind of positive expectancy that things will turn out well.  It believes that good outcomes are possible, even against all odds.  And it believes that even when the outcome we wanted doesn’t materialize, we’ll eventually discover that, in the long run. our disappointments contribute to our greater good.

The creators of positive psychology’s Character Strengths Survey describe someone who scores high in hope, optimism and future-mindedness this way:  “You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.”

The future is a pretty big place.  Maybe believing that we can influence it is a safer bet than believing we can control it.  But hope and optimism definitely give us stronger cards to play, and they motivate us to take the actions we can to bring our influence to bear.

How to Build Hope

If you’re a bit low on hope right now, I have good news for you.  Hope, like all the character strengths, is a bit like a muscle.  Give it some attention and exercise, and you can build it up.

Hope expert Dr. Anthony Scioli suggests five strategies for building hope:

  1. Set Goals.  Pick something that you would like to accomplish.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something you think is within your capabilities that you would feel good about accomplishing. Having a goal gives you some clarity in your life and a sense of purpose.
  2. Enjoy Good Relationships.  From your list of family members and acquaintances, pick one or two with whom you can be open, who won’t make you feel guarded or defensive.  As one of your goals, make a decision to spend time with them once or twice a week, even its just for a good chat on the phone.
  3. Manage Your Stress.  Dr. Scioli suggests that you identify your preferred way of coping with stress:  “Problem solving, seeking support from others, praying, planning in advance, or avoidance.”  Then, he suggests, “make a commitment to practice one or two strategies that are not part of your normal coping repertoire.
  4. Deepen Your Spirituality.  What feels spiritual to you?  Spending time in communion with your God, or higher power?  Involvement in a social organization?  Being with good friends?  Think about ways that you can spend more of your time in this area to build your sense of faith in life’s goodness.
  5. Develop a Personal Mission Statement.  What would you name as the central theme for your life?  What would give you a sense of purpose and meaning?  Accomplishing some larger goal?  Mastering a skill?  Serving others in some way?  Dr. Scioli suggests placing your written statement in a visible place to motivate you when life threatens to get the best of you.

Other practices that can help you build your hope muscle include:

  • Taking care of your health:  It’s a lot easier to feel hope when you’re full of vitality.  Get enough sleep and exercise, eat wholesome, unprocessed foods, and keep yourself well-hydrated.
  • Watching your self-talk:  Practice noticing what’s right in your life, what’s good in a situation, how well you did something, what traits you appreciate in yourself.  Learn to pat yourself on the back now and then.
  • Practicing gratitude:  It will help you notice the goodness that surrounds you and to develop your sense of life’s bounteousness and opportunities.
  • Practicing self-compassion:  Learn to be kinder and less blaming toward yourself.  Become your own best friend and supporter.  Give yourself credit for your efforts and positive attributes.
  • Accepting personal responsibility: When you accept that you’re in charge of creating your future success, you hopefulness naturally increases.
  • Keeping in motion:  Hope thrives on action.  Keep moving toward your goals.

Cultivating Optimism

Hope and optimism are strongly related.  Optimism actively looks for the good in situations, people, and things.  Optimism greases the wheels of hope and keeps it rolling.

Luckily, Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, researched optimism in depth and describes what separates the optimist from his negative cousin in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

You can check out my article, How to Make Your Optimism Soar, to learn how to incorporate more of this hopeful viewpoint into your life.

Why Bother?

We live in fast-paced, challenging, often distressful times.  When you look around the world and see all the problems, it’s easy to lose your senses of optimism and hope.  The potential for doom can easily eclipse our perception of the powerful potential for triumph that exists as well.

Cultivating your own personal sense of hope and optimism is one way you can help tip the balance in a positive direction.  You can use this strength to help make the most of your own life, to motivate you toward greater creativity, service and productiveness, and that’s one more life well-lived.

And besides, it makes life a lot more fun. We used to call it “living with heart.”

To send you off with a taste of it, here’s a song extolling its virtue, from the 1958 movie, “Damn Yankees.”

If you found this article worthwhile, please share it on the social media of your choice.  Thanks!  And while you’re here, subscribe and get your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well-Being with eight positive living exercises that will help you live a flourishing life.

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The Gratitude Solution

Gratitude“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” ~Neil Donald Walsh

Take a problem, any problem.  Pour some gratitude on it, and watch it begin to dissolve.

If that sounds like a stretch to you, all I can say is give it a try.

Regardless of the nature of your problem, look for something in the situation for which you can be grateful.  If you’re deeply enmeshed in it emotionally, it may take a little effort; but the effort is well worth making.  And always, you will be able to find things to be grateful for.  Always.   Once you find a few things, center your attention and your breathing in your heart area, and let yourself actually feel your gratitude for them.  You’ll return to your problem with a lighter, more resourceful frame of mind.

The power of gratitude is proven, not only by personal testimony that stretches back into the mists of time, but through empirical evidence generated by researchers in positive psychology.

What the science shows is that, as one of the key positive emotions, gratitude expands your view of things, giving you a broader, more resourceful perspective.   The spaciousness it creates lets you soften the tight focus you had on your problem and to open yourself to clues or comforts that may have been hiding just out of sight.

Gratitude is more than emotion.  Positive psychology classifies it as one of the 24 basic character strengths.  And like all strengths, you can increase its play in your life simply by giving it more attention and creating an intention to apply it more fully in your life.

The Amazing Benefits of Gratitude

It’s worth the effort to build more gratitude into your life.  Not only will you be happier – and able to more easily deal with your problems – but you’ll gain a wealth of additional benefits.

Grateful people, for example, sleep better and have better relationships.

Positive psychology tells us that gratitude involves both acknowledging good things that happen – being mindful of present benefits – and recognizing that the sources of goodness are outside us.  It helps to keep us rooted in the present moment and to experience more peace.

In his essay on gratitude for Positive Psychology News Daily, David Pollay quotes University of California psychology professor Robert Emmons as saying:

“Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”

Read slowly through that list of qualities again, and just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine being filled with them.   Imagine how enriched you would feel if they were your default way of experiencing life.

How to Build Gratitude

All the personal strengths are like muscles; exercise them and they get stronger.   Here are a few fun practices, many of them from the wonderful little book, Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts,  that you may enjoy for inviting more gratitude into your life:

  • Set aside time for gratitude.  Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to remember some of the people, things and events that you value.  End your day with the “Three Good Things” exercise, or by making an entry in a gratitude journal.
  • Take time to make a list of the people and things that you value in your life.  Include people and events from the past that helped you become who you are today.
  • Notice when things go well – your car starts, your coworker smiles at you, your report goes well, your family enjoyed their dinner together.   Be grateful for events.
  • Look around and see what you’re taking for granted: running water, electricity, working plumbing, food, clothing, fresh air, health, soap, razor blades, towels, toilet paper.  What would your life be like without them?  What if you had no access to them, or even the hope of any?
  • Be grateful for talents, skills, abilities.  Wow, I can read!  Isn’t that a miracle?
  • Savor happy memories.
  • Be thankful for bad things avoided and for things you haven’t lost.  It could have been worse; it was worse in the past.
  • Think about where things came from and what it took to invent, create, package, transport, and market them.  Think about all the connections involved, all the people and systems and materials.
  • Express your gratitude.  When you receive good customer service, look the other person in the eyes and express your appreciation.  Both of you will be pleased.  Praising people for what they do motivates them.
  • Use focused gratitude to improve a negative situation.  If your hands are hurting you, appreciate your strong legs or that you can see well.  If you’re struggling with your job, try keeping a gratitude list of the things about it you can find to appreciate.
  • To build the gratitude skills of your children and to generate a more positive work environment, practice expressing your gratitude for good efforts out loud.   Positive moods are as contagious as negative ones.  By practicing gratitude you literally make the world a happier place.

Need some inspiration to get your practice started?  Enjoy this beautiful video, written by Buddhist monk written by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, founder of the uplifting website Gratefulness.org:

http://youtu.be/kTdKH9AXYTg

If you found this article worthwhile, please click one of the social buttons to share it.

And for more powerful ways to add zest to your life, be sure to grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Living from the top of this page.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy:

Appreciation: Positivity’s Power Tool

Getting in the Gratitude Groove

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The Wow Factor: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Swallowtail on White BlossomsWhat sets off the Wow inside you?  A breathtaking sunset?  An extraordinary sports play?  A masterpiece of music or art?  Witnessing an act of surpassing kindness and generosity?

The appreciation of beauty and excellence finds its focus both in nature’s beauty and in every endeavor known to man.  What brings it forth in you may be entirely different from what triggers it for me.  But whatever its focus, the feeling of it is universal – a thrilling sense of elevation and awe.

It’s no accident that positive psychologists classify the personal strength of appreciating beauty and excellence as one of the transcendent strengths.

When the Wow Factor strikes us, we’re momentarily swept into a world that’s higher and headier than simple emotion or thought.  In fact, it’s the kind of peak experience that’s often beyond words.  Beauty and Excellence speak to the very best in us; they raise us up.   Experiencing them with full appreciation adds more joy and meaning to our lives.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence Defined

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman,the developers of  the personal strengths classification, define the appreciation of beauty and goodness as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds.”

They go on to describe three types of “goodness” that can trigger this strength:

  • 1. Sensory beauty, such as a natural scene or a symphony, a work of art, or dance or architecture.
  • 2. Skill or talent, such as we might see in a sports performance, or in any field of human endeavor.
  • 3. Virtue or moral goodness, such as the dedication of Mother Teresa.

You may personally be drawn more toward one type than another.  Or, if this strength is one of your top strengths, you may find that your sensitive to all three.

How to Enhance Life’s Meaning

In our high-tech, achievement-oriented society, it’s easy to turn into “a head on a stick,” and to be so caught up in our internal, intellectual worlds that we overlook the beauty and excellence that life has to offer.

But cultivating the strength of appreciating them makes our lives more meaningful and worthwhile.  It allows us to get back in touch with our sense of wonder.

That’s not to say that we can’t find beauty and excellence in the intellectual world as well, if we choose to look for it.   In his book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins says,

“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.”

The time we have for living is indeed finite.  So why not fill it with all the richness and beauty we can?

Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  We can intentionally sharpen our senses and the strength of appreciation for beauty and excellence in many ways.

The key word is “intentionally.”   Each of us possesses all of the personal strengths to greater or lesser degrees, and by paying attention to any one of them, we can raise its degree of functioning in our life.  The first step is to make a commitment to yourself to look for beauty and excellence.  Remind yourself when you wake in the morning that this is one of your intentions for the day.

Psychologist Ben Dean, founder and CEO of Mentor Coach, suggests that you can increase your appreciation for beauty and excellence by keeping a nightly journal in which you record  “something you saw during the day the struck you as extremely beautiful or skillful.”  Or visit a museum and hunt for something that especially touches you because of its aesthetic value.  Afterwards, write down your impressions.

Dr. Clare Wheeler has some suggestions for increasing your appreciation for beauty and excellence, too.

  • Take a mindful walk, she says, where you stroll slowly, opening all your senses to the world around you.  Even if you do this for only a short while, say, from your house to your car, it will enrich you and clue you in to all that can be observed and enjoyed.
  • Add variety to your daily routine.  If you take a different way to work, for example, or to the store, you’ll be more apt to notice new things.
  • Create more time in your life for the things that you find beautiful and moving.  Buy yourself flowers or plant a garden.   Surround yourself with coffee table books about the things that you enjoy and find inspiring.  Read biographies of people who have excelled in their fields.  Attend more concerts and sporting events if they draw you and watch for the moments of high skill and artistry.
  • Use the camera on your phone or a compact digital camera to capture the beauty you spot in your daily life.  “Make a deal with yourself to take one photo of something you think is beautiful every day for a month,” she says.  “Before long, you’ll find yourself seeking, and finding, beautiful people places and things every day.

I have to admit that the last one is my personal favorite.  I started doing it three years ago and the result is my daily blog, “High on Happiness,” where I share my photos and the thoughts they inspire, just for the joy of it.  And I can attest that the activity has indeed added more happiness and meaning to my own life.

However you choose to develop it,  and whatever aspect of life’s goodness creates a Wow moment for you, the time you spend cultivating appreciation for beauty and excellence will enrich you beyond measure.

If you found this article worthwhile, please do pass it on.  And while you’re here, subscribe and get your free copy of the Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well-Being, along with my Sunday morning letters – both special ways to add more uplift to your life.

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy How to Live a Meaningful Life

 

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The Hidden Strengths of Modesty and Humility

Modesty and HumilityIn today’s celebrity culture, where glamour and fame ride high, the traits of modesty and humility seem more like throwbacks to some dusty, forgotten age than qualities to be desired.

But don’t let their unassuming nature fool you.  The hidden strengths of modesty and humility sing to our hearts and appeal to our highest nature.

Modesty and Humility Defined

To understand why, let’s start by defining them.  If you look them up in the dictionary, the two words generally describe the same kinds of attitude and behavior.   “ Modesty” applies more to the way we express ourselves in our speech or dress.  It’s concerned with standards of decency.  “Humility” focuses more on the way we value ourselves compared to others, including the level of authority we have in a given situation.   But both of them are about freedom from arrogance, showiness and excessive pride.

The developers of positive psychology’s VIA Character Strength Survey say this about someone who ranks high in modesty and humility:  “You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.”

In other words, you don’t need to be the center of attention and you have a sense that your personal qualities and abilities, while they may be exceptional in some way, don’t make you more special as a human being.  You recognize that we all have our worth.

Humility’s Essence and Depth

Writing about humility in the now discontinued magazine In Character Wilfred M. McClay calls humility “foundational to the very possibility of human flourishing.”  That’s a pretty big statement to make.   But he may be right.  He describes humility’s task as one that allows us to “reorient ourselves to our proper place in a larger reality, which, for all its vastness and unfathomable mystery, is the ground of any genuine human happiness.”

What that means is that humility is the quality that lets us see ourselves honestly, as small sparks in an endless stretch of time and space, as one of several billion human beings who share this one particular moment on this one little planet.   It means that we keep things in perspective, that we recognize our limitations as well as our strengths and don’t overestimate either of them.

I like the way that Brett and Kate McKay put it in their article at the Art of Manliness:

“The definition of humility need not include timidity or becoming a wallflower. Instead, humility simply requires a man to think of his abilities and his actions as no greater, and no lesser, than they really are. Real humility then mandates that a man knows and is completely honest with himself.  He honestly assesses what are, and to what magnitude he possesses talents and gifts, struggles and weaknesses.”

In essence, humility is keeping a balanced view of ourselves and of our place in the larger whole.

Because the whole is so large, someone somewhere will always be better than we are at some things, worse than we are at others.  That means there’s no need for arrogance about what we do well or for shame over what we can do only poorly.  It also means that we give credit to others where it’s due.  It means we can genuinely celebrate others’ achievements without feeling personally lessened by them in some way.

The whole is not only large, but it’s interconnected.  It’s all once piece, and we, individually, are just its parts.  We’re dependent on each other for all that we are.  All the material goods and services we enjoy come to us through the efforts of other people.  All that we’ve learned, we’ve been taught or led to by others.  Other people shape our cultures, our institutions, our world views and our beliefs.  Humility is the conscious recognition and appreciation of the contributions of others.  It’s a kind of gratitude for our fellow man.

What’s So Cool About Humility?

Humility makes you more likeable.   When you’re focused on seeing that other people get what they need instead of only looking out for your own interests, people develop trust in you.  When you sincerely applaud their achievements and contributions, people feel acknowledged, validated and seen.

Lately, humility has been identified as a top quality of strong leaders.  According to leadership expert Jim Collins, a great leader loses his or her greatness when it becomes all about that leader. In almost a biblical sense, greatness comes when those who could be first decide to be last.

“We found that for leaders to make something great,” Collins says, “their ambition has to be for the greatness of the work and the company, rather than for themselves.”

Humble people tend to be confident and to have a strong sense of purpose.  Research
shows that people who rank high in humility seem to have “a sense of security grounded on feelings of self-worth.”   They’re “less driven to impress and dominate others” and “to collect special benefits for themselves.”

Because they’re confident in their self-worth they tend to be flexible in their opinions and open to the viewpoints of others.

Self-Worth vs. Self-Esteem

Self-worth is different from self-esteem.  Self-esteem is ego-centric and competitive.  It measures how good you are compared to others.   It can be boastful and arrogant, and it’s sometimes built on a less than honest appraisal of your true attributes, talents, authority, or skills.

Self-worth, on the other hand, acknowledges that you have deep-rooted, built-in value – just because you are -while respecting the value of others as well.  It holds onto its perspective of the larger whole.

What’s so cool about humility, in the final analysis, is that it’s about love and respect.  It’s about loving and honoring yourself, just as you are, so fully that you love and honor others as well.

And that, I believe, is why it’s the foundation for all human flourishing.

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

 

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You may also enjoy How to Develop Your People Smarts
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