Pursuing Happiness and Meaning in Life Through Writing
Having recently completed a book on happiness and meaning and how it links to ethical behavior, I want to share some of my insights about how writing can qualitatively enhance wellness.
We pursue happiness and meaning in life through actions we take for our own growth and development and to better the lives of others. These actions can build a sense of self-worth. They can also delight our readers and motivate them to become better persons while, at the same time, satisfying their need for self-esteem. Writing is not only an outlet for our creative energy but motivation to qualitatively improve the communities within which we live and work.
According to Tara Parker-Pope, the founding editor of Well, the NY Times’s award-winning consumer health site, scientific research has found that the benefits of so-called expressive writing are significant. “Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory. Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing – and then rewriting – your personal story can lead to behavior changes and improve happiness.”
If writing can enhance wellness on so many levels the question is how it occurs. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health. Expressive writing enables us to examine our own behavior and that of others, internalize the written word and use it to improve how we interact with the world around us and reach out to others who may inspire use to be better people and better writers, all of which can make us happier and add meaning to our lives.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology that is based on the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow from 1943 through 1970. Maslow suggests that once our basic needs are met (i.e., food, shelter, security) we move on to satisfying personal needs (i.e., love and belongingness) and then higher-level needs such as self-esteem and, ultimately, self-actualization. Self-actualization means to be all that we can be; to accomplish our highest goals in life. The result is a greater sense of happiness and adding meaning to our lives.
Maslow classified esteem needs into two categories: (1) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, independence) and (2) reputation and respect from others (status, prestige). Individuals at this level act to build pride in their work and themselves as people. Maslow suggested that people need both esteem from other people as well as inner self-respect before self-actualization is possible. If a person does not feel good about themselves and others don’t value relationships with them, it seems a self-fulfilling life could not occur. This can negatively affect one’s accomplishments as a writer.
Achieving Self-Actualization as a Writer
As writers, we strive to become noticed not so much for the external need of making money but to be admired by others for our work. We want to do something worthwhile that might change the lives of others for the better. We gain pride as a result, build self-esteem and reach our highest potential as a writer. We can make our mark on society in a positive way.
If we could see the faces of our readers or speak to them about our work, we can gauge how successful we’ve been in adding meaning to their lives. They might learn about the world through our eyes, be better equipped to deal with relationships of trust, overcome challenges in life, learn tips that can lead to self-improvement and eventually self-actualization.
Write What You Know
Mark Twain said to “write what you know.” This seems logical enough, but it doesn’t go far enough. We should add: “Write what you know about and that which inspires you.” It’s the inspiration part that can bring happiness and meaning not only to oneself but to others as well.
As writers, we should dedicate ourselves to making a better world. Someone must do it especially in these fractured times so why not us?
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 28, 2020. Dr. Mintz is an award-winning blogger. His Ethics Sage blog was recognized as one the top 100 in philosophy (#23) by Feedspot (https://blog.feedspot.com/philosophy_blogs/). He recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.