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The importance of a meaningful life

When we think about life goals, the 'pursuit of happiness' is a big one. It even features in the American Declaration of Independence. But what if I told you that it's not happiness that gives our lives meaning? That, instead, it's having a purpose – finding your 'why'?

Man's search for meaning

I’ve recently been catching up on my reading. I'll admit, I'm a book hoarder. I find it hard to walk past a bookshop without popping in and picking something up.

With two young boys at home, and a busy job, it's hard to find time to get through them all. But better to have a bookshelf full of books you might read one day than no bookshelf at all, I say.

One of the books has been on my 'to-read' list for a long time. It's often referenced in films and documentaries. A truly life-changing work, people in prison often pick it up after being sent down for atrocious crimes. For example, Aaron Hernandez – the disgraced NFL star who shot and murdered three people – believes things would have been different if he'd only read this book earlier.

So what is this incredible tome? 'Man's Search for Meaning' by the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl.  If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do.

Turning pain, suffering and hard work into a meaningful existence

Another famous psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, believes that most of our issues stem from our relationships with our parents. Frankl takes a different view. He believes that our issues come from a lack of purpose.

For Frankl, the point of life is to suffer in some way – and that suffering is what gives our lives purpose. In turn, that purpose gives life its meaning.

This might sound a little pessimistic. But Frankl is speaking from experience – both his own, and that of his clients. Frankl survived Auschwitz. Where people's fates were sealed by the cursory flick of a senior guard's hand as soon they stepped off the train.

Throughout the utter despair of the notorious concentration camp, Frankl noticed that those who had something to live for were able to survive throughout the biggest horrors. He also acknowledges that purpose alone wasn’t always sufficient, sometimes it was sheer luck too. 

After Auschwitz, Frankl met many severely depressed, unemployed and hungry patients during his time as a psychiatrist. His answer? Encouraging them to volunteer for the local library, or organisations supporting youths.

Although this work was unpaid, and the patients remained poor and hungry, their depression dramatically reduced and sometimes disappeared. All because suddenly their life had a clear purpose and meaning.

Why your financial planning needs a purpose

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. The point is that this has profound implications within financial planning.

There is plenty of evidence around the value of purpose in retirement but investing too shouldn't just be for the sake of it – it also needs to have a purpose. You need to understand your 'why' and make the best choices about how best to use your time and money. Otherwise, with no meaning behind the money, you’ll find it harder to keep motivated by your long-term savings plan or you may feel detached from the real value of your portfolio. 

And back to the idea of happiness. According to Frankl, simply pursuing happiness would result in a society without meaning. However, our deeds and acts, which give life a real purpose, ultimately result in happiness.

Three ways to have a happy and meaningful life, according to Viktor E. Frankl

My short blog post can't do justice to Frankl. A brilliant mind and a wonderful human being, what he endured, survived and achieved is truly mind-blowing. But I'm going to quickly summarise his three main avenues for finding a meaningful – and therefore happy – life.

1) Working hard – creating something from your own sweat and toil is one way to find meaning. Whether it's painting a masterpiece, building a brick wall or teaching a grandchild how to swim. 

2) Building relationships – whether it's platonic or romantic, our love for other people helps us to experience the world internally through others and balance out our worldly achievements in point 1. 

And probably the most imporntat: 

3) To be more than the hand you were dealt – whatever circumstances you find yourself, regardless of whether it's good luck or bad, we have control over being more than our fate. This could mean facing down an awful situation with dignity and courage. It can also mean remaining humble and gracious after a large windfall, or finding fame by acknowledging the role luck played and helping others. 

Find purpose and build the best financial plan

Essentially, life is nothing without a strong purpose. Financial planning is no different. Understanding your goals and knowing your 'why' can help you to make the right decisions, both now, and when things get difficult, for example during periods of market volatility.

This is one reason why it's important to have a good financial adviser. We can help you to find that purpose and meaning and assist you in achieving that ultimate happiness through hard work and patience.  

It’s this that provides contentment, a feeling of control and ultimately leads to an outcome that transcends investment returns. 

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