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Encounter and wonder crucial to a meaningful life

Suppose that there is a hereafter. There, all your memories are erased, except for one. Which memory would you choose then? On 26 February, UT research scientist Jacky van de Goor obtains her doctoral degree with a study on the answers to this question, given by hundreds of people. Her research shows how people experience sense and meaning in everyday life and can be read as a mirror of modern society. The findings emphasise the importance of wonder, surrender, encounter and connectedness. 

A meaningful life, having the feeling that you matter: it is a basic human need, crucial to health and well-being. However, in the dynamics of an ever accelerating, individualised society, more and more people experience feelings of meaninglessness – something that is reinforced by corona.

Experience more meaning in life

The memories that van de Goor collected for her research provide insight into the different ways in which people experience meaning in life. Not only do they describe unique highlights such as the birth of a child, they also mention routines of everyday life: washing a mother who suffers from dementia or reading a bedtime story. In addition, the research shows the value of painful, raw and sad experiences. For example, a student chose the memory of the moment he carried the coffin with the body of his dead friend to the grave. Van de Goor developed a methodology that enables people to discover, on the basis of the memory they choose, how they can experience more meaning in life.

The importance of wonder

One thing the research makes clear is that happiness and meaning are not the same. Money, possessions, status and success: strikingly, many things that we usually worry about are not the things that really matter. The research raises questions about the difference between prosperity and well-being, between usefulness and value, and between knowing and not knowing. The findings emphasise the importance of wonder in addition to reason and control, of surrender in addition to purposiveness and performance, and of encounter and connectedness in addition to autonomy and self-reliance.

Jacky van de Goor (Eindhoven) works as a research scientist at the Story Lab of the University of Twente and has her own organisational coaching agency. Last autumn, her book Your life in one memory was published by Uitgeverij Ten Have. She wrote this book, which is aimed at a lay audience, on the basis of her PhD research.

drs. J.G.M. van den Elshout (Janneke)
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