10/17/2014 01:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Things to Do Today: Find Meaning From Within


Autotelic Person -- A person who is internally driven, having a purpose in and not apart from themselves. As opposed to externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.

Another day. Another dollar.

The routine feels the same, doesn't it? The monotony of waking up everyday and going through the motions. We go to work, go to school, run errands, pay the bills, feed the family, feed ourselves. The list of "to dos" is endless. Even our weekends, those supposed days meant just for us, instead are spent doing things: improving the house, fixing the car, helping others. We do all the "other" things that we didn't have time "to do" during the week. All just so we're ready to get back at it again on Monday.

For some of us it works. We can feel satisfied and fulfilled in building security for ourselves and for others. Our friends and loved ones appreciate us for all the hard work we do. For good reason, the rewards of money and power are real and easily shared. Which makes us feel even better. After all, there are few things that feel better than sharing our good fortune with those we love.

But for many others, the treadmill doesn't work. The monotony becomes overwhelming. A never-ending pursuit of money and power for the sake of comfort and security can seem like a fate worse than death. It feels like running just to stay in place.

For those people, life is more than paying the bills. For them, it is purpose and meaning that drive them. To be fulfilled in their lives they need it to be filled with authenticity and meaning. They recognize the external rewards of money or power are only temporary solutions. Without deeper purpose, the satisfaction and happiness of external rewards always vanish over time.

They long for a more durable purpose to life. A meaning that comes from within that is not subject to the whims of the outside world.

They are autotelic. Seekers of zen enlightenment.

An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they are less dependent on the external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life composed of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life. -- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "Going With the Flow in a Type A World."

Zen enlightenment is the path to finding purpose from within. It is a journey inward to find meaning beyond material possessions and external rewards. To feel joy in everything you do and find peace, harmony and contentment from within.

However, finding meaning from the inside is no easier than finding meaning on the outside. Just because you journey inward doesn't mean your answers will be found. In fact, a journey to find purpose is still a journey to find meaning someplace else.

And this is the essence of zen enlightenment. It is a path inward, a commitment to looking at yourself without judgment, desire or expectation. To reveal the hopes and fears that drive you. To honestly look into the dark corners and scary places hidden away and long forgotten. To reach acceptance of the world as it is and the person you are, as you are.

And that is the definition of an autotelic person, someone having a purpose in and not apart from themselves. Where the journey inward becomes it's own purpose. Instead of a journey to find meaning, meaning is found in the clarity the journey provides. By removing the illusion of purpose outside yourself you can finally understand who you are and what you want. Instead of seeking purpose you become your purpose.

This clarity and understanding is zen. Where every day is filled with meaning. Instead of feeling like you're stuck running in one place, it transforms the treadmill into a garden path where the beauty of the journey and the beauty of the purpose are one and the same.

It is a place where the daily "to do" list is a daily "purpose" list.

When another day becomes another joy.