The idea that a meaningful life must be or appear remarkable is not only elitist but also misguided. The most meaningful lives are often not the extraordinary ones. They’re the ordinary ones lived with dignity.
Contemporary society has some very wrong-headed ideas about what constitutes success. Popular thinking holds that a person who went to Harvard is smarter and better than someone who attended Ohio State; that a father who stays at home with his kids is contributing less to society than a man who works at a Fortune 500 company; that a woman with 200 Instagram followers must be less valuable than a woman with two million.
We all live in stories — we go to the movies, read novels, and share stories with loved ones and colleagues. But the story I’m specifically referring to here is the story you tell yourself about yourself — about how you became you.
In many ways —ways we may not even realize — we are becoming wall-builders ourselves. True belonging doesn’t exist in groups. It lives in moments among individuals. And it is a choice — we can choose to invite others to belong or to reject them
Some ten years after the first meeting of the Junto, Franklin wrote, “The noblest question in the world is, ‘What good may I do in it?’” More than three hundred years later, the importance of this question is undiminished. Answering it is the work of a lifetime, yet we can begin modestly, as Franklin did.
We might not all know what our purpose in life is, but we are all storytellers. The challenge to writing our story is that our lives don’t follow a neat arc. Our identities and experiences are constantly shifting.
All across the country, Americans are building ‘cultures of meaning’ that bring people together, keep them engaged, and help them contribute to their communities.
“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
On why storytelling is an unexpected but important source of meaning in life, why we should embrace sadness, and whether you need to be religious to find fulfillment.
Merton had an interesting journey to monasticism, and his story sheds light on why contemplation and meditation are essential for a meaningful life, and for true freedom.