Meaning

December 19, 2023

Meaning-Making (Part 1): The Power of a Meaning-Making Mindset

The practice of meaning-making involves exploring our belief systems, especially our beliefs around spirituality, which offer a distinct and powerful role in making meaning.

During his time in a WWII concentration camp, the psychiatrist, philosopher, and author, Viktor Frankl, observed that many survivors of these atrocities, including himself, had the commonality of choosing to find meaning and hope within their sufferings. 

Suffering and loss come in endless forms, but are ultimately connected as part of the collective human experience. We must each learn to process and navigate our own pain in order to thrive. 

Learning to place meaning on these situations is a powerful practice, not only for the purpose of healing, but for connecting to something bigger than ourselves that is often beyond our current awareness—a transcendent life. 

Why is meaning-making valuable to us?

Meaning-making is the process by which we interpret and ascribe perception to the information our world presents us. It is instrumental in influencing recovery, resilience, and thriving. The practice of meaning-making involves exploring our belief systems, especially our beliefs around spirituality, which offer a distinct and powerful role in making meaning.

As we grow—spiritually, mentally, emotionally—the meanings we make of our situations often evolve as well. We reappraise as our life experience and insights grow, but tethering to meaning provides an important source of hope, coping, and direction. Even when there is a shift in our understanding, a sense of coherence amidst the discord of our beliefs and the situation we are facing is still at work. 

It is through this dynamic appraisal process that coping through meaning-making can occur.  

What is inspiring our meaning?

In order to engage in meaning-making, it is important to explore the spectrum of our beliefs, as they inform how we construct meaning and make sense of events and circumstances. We may not even be fully aware of some beliefs until they are challenged.  

Beliefs1 can be defined as a collection of core assumptions or premises about what is true in our worldview—they are the lens through which we see the world. Our beliefs develop within the context of the people we are surrounded by as we grow, as well as based on our life experiences. They become woven into our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and contain such nuance that they are without replication in another person. 

Often, it is the tension between the beliefs we hold and the actual world around us that becomes problematic—or as Park speaks to it, “our global meaning is in discord with our situational meaning.”1 

This is the part of the process where the magic of meaning-making is introduced. 

The Comfort That Comes with Meaning

Exploring our framework of beliefs will now allow us to begin applying new lenses to our experiences and reorient our perspective to one of meaning and hope. It may involve challenging a belief that is influencing our current perception and bringing it into alignment with our true beliefs, involving meaning that is anchored to a loving source. 

Assigning meaning to the inevitable depressions of life brings comfort from within, helping to soften the sting of our suffering, as Frankl observed, and leading to thriving lives, thriving families and thriving societies.

Practice

Take a moment to identify and examine a belief, leaving room for the possibility of reorienting its meaning. For example: “I believe in a loving God or loving benevolent being,” or “I do not believe in a loving benevolent source.” Both of these are informed by your organized belief systems, values, experiences, perceptions, interpretations, and so much more. These beliefs will influence how you make sense of your current situation (i.e., meaning-making) and will impact your emotional responses and behaviors.

Below are a few questions that can be helpful to further explore your beliefs and their influence on your life.

  • How does the belief you identified influence the meaning you place on the problem and solution? 
    • Example: “I believe there is a loving God who is guiding my life no matter my circumstances.” 
  • Does the belief lead to positive or negative emotions?
    • Example: “My belief in a loving God allows me to feel peaceful.”
  • How does the result of the belief reinforce your belief system?
    • Example: “Because I am able to experience peace during a difficult time, knowing it will work out in the end, my faith in this belief system is deepened.”

Take it one step further:

  • How does your belief influence your family (parents/kids/extended system)?
  • Do they hold this same belief or believe differently? 
  • Do any beliefs invite discord? Healing?
Thrive Center

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Meaning Making (Part 2): What Does Spirituality Have to do with Meaning-Making?

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