Searching for Meaning in Our Lives: The Bipolar Disorder Question of the Week

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Is true happiness possible? If not happiness, can we aspire to a life of meaning? In last week's Question of the Week, we discussed the hazards of overwork. In this week's question, we are going to flip that around.


    The week before, I was swamped with work. This week only got worse. With our illness, any kind of overload puts our entire well-being at risk, and the consequences can be catastrophic. The disastrous manic episode I experienced more than twenty years ago - the one that rendered me unemployable - came from overwork. Ironically, my dedication to my job was my undoing.


    But too much work is not all bad, and - of all things - the type of work I was doing gave me pause to reflect on that. I serve on the board of NAMI San Diego. This coming Friday we will be putting on our annual Inspirational Awards Dinner. Lots of planning and preparing. I will also be giving a talk the night before.

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    As it turned out, our Dinner made a great starting point for the talk. The six individuals we will be honoring share values we at NAMI can relate to, namely, commitment and dedication to serving others.


    Serving others goes by lots of names, such as altruism and putting others first. Those who have studied happiness - George Vaillant, Martin Seligman, the Dalai Lama - have found a direct connection between serving others and happiness. But it's not that simple. Robert Cloninger, who is an expert on personality. points out that we like being stuck where we are, in our miserable states. Bringing about change in our lives requires a lot of hard work, not to mention courage.


    But if we are successful in capitalizing on our strengthes and virtues, says Dr Seligman, we can turn our work into a calling. Ah, a life of meaning.


    So, am I happy? Not really. I'm a depressive realist. That works for me. Does my life have meaning? Yes, thanks to my work (and overwork). Am I happy with that? Is that a trick question?


    Question: Does your life have meaning? If yes, by all means tell us about it. If no, feel free to elaborate.


    Note: Meaning is how you choose to define it, not other people's expectations of you.


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Published On: October 01, 2011