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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

A Question About Meaning and Purpose and Don’s Response

Sunday August 23, 2015

Preface

FISH (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat'ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
FishThis life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! -- Death eddies near --
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

—-Rupert Brooke, "Heaven," 1913

Introduction: Perspective

Responding to visitor mail is one of the many pleasures of blogging here at SeekWellness.com Wellness Center. Ever so often, a message or request for information or, in this case, a question challenging something I have written in an essay or interview gets special attention. The following question is an example of that kind of thing, which happily happens often. This question came from the editor of a scholarly journal, who also happens to be a friend and fellow wellness enthusiast.

Here is his question put to me, which followed my essay posted here on August 8 entitled, “Recognize and Celebrate Reality - Life is Meaningless! You Are Free to Pursue and Enjoy Wellness Orgasms to Your Heart's Delight.” 

Q: One of the “throw back” trends recently that I’ve found most welcomed in health promotion is the quest for intrinsic motivation and the related advocacy for capturing life’s meaning and purpose as a vital correlate to well-being. On these pages I’ve interviewed Drs. Victor Strecher (“On Purpose”) and Richard Leider who write so eloquently on the role of the health benefits of being meaning seekers. Tom Rath’s new book “Are you Fully Charged?” also turns to meaning as being most meaningful when it comes to health. You, on the other hand, even seem to have a contrarian’s take on something as inarguable as the benefits of a purpose driven life. Seriously?
 
A: Contrary to the theme you have assigned to me, which I don’t mind at all, by the way, I am not nearly as “contrarian label worthy” as you suggest I am. My photo does not appear in any dictionary where this term is found. In fact, I suspect that you and I agree on vastly more issues, values and yes, the nature and best paths to meaning and purpose than not, in my opinion. Other than the divide in our worldviews concerning belief/non-belief in a god, we could be twins, kind of.

I’m delighted to learn of your view that there is a trend in health promotion to include attention to meaning and purpose. That’s news to me but I’ll cheerfully take your word for it—and hope that it’s true. Yes, I know of the wonderful works on meaning and purpose by the three authors you cite. I’m wildly in favor of the idea that we do well to embrace as much meaning and purpose as we can manage. There might be a difference in the way you and I, the three authors and everyone else approaches meaning and purpose, but who would not place these quests at the top of a REAL or other kind of wellness hierarchy?

I wrote a book about finding meaning and purpose in the 80’s. It was based on polling I did of health promotion luminaries, who responded to a detailed question about their perceptions of meaning and purpose and their views about their own pathways in that realm. The title is, The Book of Wellness: A Secular Approach to Meaning, Purpose and Spirituality. The publisher is Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.

If my ideas differ from the writings of those you cited in the question, it would most likely only be in my preferred methodology or approach for freeing oneself (if necessary—not everyone has a need to do so) of constrictions, obstacles, barriers and blocks caused by any number of nefarious worldviews (dogmatisms) in order to freely embrace a conscious quest for a lifetime feast of enduring and ever-new passions, purposes and the like. A short essay on the benefits of viewing life as meaningless summarizes this approach, but such an ultimate view is a fillip to facilitate a break out from the soporific normalcy or mediocrity of just going along with what you were socialized to think about such consequential matters. See Recognize and Celebrate Reality - Life is Meaningless! You Are Free to Pursue and Enjoy Wellness Orgasms to Your Heart's Delight.

I appreciated Vic Strecher’s tour of philosophy ancient to modern and illustrations of vital lessons via a six-legged superhero role model. How clever is that? Richard Leider’s take on meaning and purpose is that it’s a mindset, no less, no more. Just like a commitment to REAL wellness and wellness orgasms. I don’t consider such a journal a “spiritual process” as he does, but that’s semantic more than anything, not substantive. The key remains the same—making your unique purpose central to your life, the basis for getting out of bed each day and informing most of what you do once up and about. Tom Rath, like Ecclesiastes’ (“All is futile, utterly futile”) and modernists such as Viktor Frankl, David Friend, Hugh Moorhead, Irving Yalom—all of whom wrote splendid books on meaning and purpose, reminds us that activities and goals that create better days for ourselves and others trump the pursuit of happiness and self-indulgence.

All good wishes. Whatever your decisions about meaning and purpose, let me wish you an epic and triumphant existence, focused to the extent possible on the bright side of life.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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