Brain Food #629

Do things that help

Thoughts of the day

What makes life meaningful? A group of researchers looked at the role that small, seemingly insignificant daily interactions play in our overall evaluation of meaning in life.

The researchers defined meaning in life as “the extent to which people comprehend, make sense of, or see significance in their lives, accompanied by the degree to which they see themselves to have a purpose, mission, or over-arching aim in life.”

Their work suggests that it is not only the large milestones in life, but its daily events that play an important role in regulating our fluctuating emotions, and how meaningful we perceive our life to be. They circle back to the words of Viktor Frankl, that meaning is found in personal experiences, and conclude that a negative interaction with someone else can depress our mood for an entire day, a positive one can lift it.

The lesson is simple, but often overlooked. We affect each other every day, perhaps more than we think.


In an interview, writer Kurt Vonnegut was asked about the importance of his work. His response encapsulates the range in which one’s profession or output can be helpful. Even if you do not work in a field that directly helps society, you can still be helpful to others; your colleagues, your family, your friends. You can make your day, but also someone else’s day, meaningful through positive interactions. With common understanding and a touch of empathy, we can all go further.

In the process of your becoming, you’ve given the world much warmth and humor. That matters, doesn’t it?

I asked my son Mark what he thought life was all about, and he said, “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” I think that says it best. You can do that as a comedian, a writer, a painter, a musician. He’s a pediatrician. There are all kinds of ways we can help each other get through today. There are some things that help. Musicians really do it for me. I wish I were one, because they help a lot. They help us get through a couple hours.