What I’m most thankful for

Lynne McTaggart

Like so many of you, for many months I’ve been in close physical proximity with just a tiny isolated silo of people: my husband, our adult children (both of whom work for our company), and four other team members, who meet with us twice a week at the office.

Otherwise, my in-person connection with other human beings is limited to a brief exchange with people at our open-air market or a food store, or a nod to the people I pass when I go out for a walk.

Perhaps that’s why I’m particularly thankful this Thanksgiving weekend. The lack of physical contact with other human beings has made any sort of contact with our nearest and dearest ever more urgent and also, in a sense, provided us with a hierarchy of needs that may not have been so apparent to us before.

I meet weekly with two Power of Eight groups over Zoom, and many of the group, particularly those who live alone, consider that connection the highlight of their week, even if that connection is just an electronic one.

The other day my husband, who holds a degree in philosophy, was talking to me about the differences between the various Viennese schools of psychotherapy in determining what exactly drives human beings.

There was Alfred Adler, inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who proposed that the driving force of all human motivation is a ‘will to power’, such as through money, prestige or status, which he considered even more basic than the will to survive.

And of course, Sigmund Freud, who countered that the driving force of man is a will to pleasure.

But it was Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who proposed that humankind’s most fundamental urge is a search for meaning. Why exactly are we here? And what makes for a life well lived? Only if we fail to find meaning to our lives do we instead compensate with pleasure.

In 2009, Mary Daly and Daniel Wilson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, teaming up with Norman Johnson of the Census Bureau, examined suicide deaths in the United States to see if they had anything to do with income.

At first glance, it appeared that the less income someone had, the more likely he was to kill himself. Closer analysis, however, proved this conclusion to be premature.

As it happened, the richest areas of America had the greatest risk of suicide.  

When Daly, Wilson, and Johnson drilled down further, the one issue that ultimately proved to have a connection with the desire to commit suicide was the effect of comparing one’s own income to that of others around you. And the richer everyone was around you, the more miserable you were likely to be.

In the crudest terms, for every $10,000 more your neighbors make than you do, your suicide probability increases by 7.5 per cent. 

It wasn’t about the money itself – these were all highly affluent people who had everything they probably needed or wanted. It was all about belonging and connection.

Now compare that study with one examining poor people during hard financial times.

A sampling of Americans in the lowest income bracket suffered from virtually no stress about their financial circumstances, so long as they had two means of support: a strong spiritual connection and a strong community.

Even when engaged in a daily struggle to survive, they were able to manage as long as they didn’t do so alone.

But perhaps the most compelling piece of research of all about the most fundamental of human drives was carried out by psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who wanted to examine the difference in likely future health between healthy people who live a fulfilling life of pleasure and happiness –what we’d normally define as the good life – compared to those who live a life of purpose or meaning.

The researchers gathered together a group of 160 healthy volunteers, after separating them into two groups.

The first were people who were pleasure-seekers, who lived for their own happiness and satisfaction above all.

The others were those who felt that life had a sense of direction and meaning, they’d had experiences that had challenged them to become a better person, and they felt they had something to contribute to society.

Although the members of the two groups had many emotional similarities, and all claimed to be highly content and not depressed, their gene expression profile couldn’t have been more different.

Among the pleasure seekers, the psychologists were amazed to discover high levels of inflammation, considered a marker for degenerative illnesses, and lower levels of gene expression involved in antibody synthesis, the body’s response to outside attack.

If you hadn’t known their histories, you would have concluded that these were the gene profiles of people exposed to a great deal of adversity, or in the midst of difficult life crises: a low socioeconomic status, social isolation, diagnosis with a life-threatening disease, or a recent bereavement.

These people were all perfect candidates for a heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, even cancer. In a few years, they would be dropping like flies.

Those whose lives were not as affluent or stress-free but were purposeful and filled with meaning, on the other hand, had low inflammatory markers and stress-related gene expression down-regulated, both indicative of rude good health.

If you had to choose one path over the other, the researchers concluded, choosing a life of meaning and service over one just chasing pleasure is undeniably better for your health.

Most of us are taught that the single most important impulse we have is to survive at all costs, or to be ‘happy,’ but our need to connect with others and contribute something to the world is perhaps the one element that gives our life the greatest meaning.

Of all the Viennese schools of psychology, perhaps Frankl’s is closest to the truth.   But all of them may have overlooked one other important factor.

Deep connection and belonging are the qualities perhaps most essential to human nature.

I’m not saying that I’m thankful there was a pandemic. But a crisis like this always reveals what is most essential to us and what we have to be most thankful for.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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11 comments on “What I’m most thankful for”

  1. Thank you for your efforts, on behalf of humankind - esp. helping to strengthen the connection between consciousness and physical healing.

    10 of our closest friends meet weekly via zoom to meditate together, often using the Power of Eight format. Today we had a special session so we could set an intention and visualize healing for one of our members. In less than 30 minutes we identified the specifics of our intention, discussed this so we could all focus on the same thing, and then spent 10 minutes in group meditation. Afterward, each person shared a sentence or two about their experience, especially the images and feelings that arose.

    Perhaps our experience will be reinforcing and encouraging about the power of group prayer/intention.

  2. Viktor Frankl was so right in his thinking!

    After his time in the Nazi concentration camp, with much time to observe and think, his conclusions in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, helped us to look for and realize our purpose in life and to think positively.

    Yes, we must do that to live a good and meaningful life. You are so right about your reasons for being thankful

  3. Reading your words after the last post, I realize that it is true that deep connection and belonging are also quite essential.

    Thank you

  4. To Lynne,
    I give thanks to you and your husband for your uplifting messages, positive actions and kind hearts - badly needed these days and in the future as we grow toward peace on earth which is possible. Many thanks and blessings to you and your family. Margo

  5. I loved this, Lynne. You covered a huge amount of territory, and I agree with your conclusion. Thank you.

  6. Thanks all your sharing wisdom is significant improvement of the wellbeing of all humanity.Knowledge is energy as Dr.Bruce oftenly mention ,we all are energy enterconnected each other which new discovery of science mention widely.

  7. Wow, very interesting comparisons and study’s! At 67, I have come to see meaning and purpose as paramount in ones life. In my younger years I desired all the material trappings, but now they don’t mean a thing while my connections with family and friends means so much more especially when helping one in need. But more than that, it has been my spiritual life that has blossomed with daily meditation and life reflection that brings deep profound meaning. Being a retired hospice chaplain, after COVID I would love to continue in helping the dying and bereaved as a volunteer. Thanks for all that you both do!

  8. Thank you for an insightful commentary.. now we need to do a 'Great Reset' to come back to a state of allowing ourselves to connect after all this time of being careful to 'stay safe' to socially isolate - to keep distant!! It almost seems we have a completely new culture .. that of distancing ourselves.. it is so important not to allow the physical distance to encroach onto our real connections with each other and our community.

  9. Yes deep connection and belonging ....recently received a healing and we looked first for what I most wanted and it was a sense of belonging and each member of the healing group offered me a gift of healing amonst these were a poem a song a story all offered from these individuals to me following the theme of belonging ....after recieving these gifts I felt an embodied sense of belonging .I believe that our disconnection from nature is one of the roots responsible for our present crises ....as when we have no sense of belonging and connection to the natural world we dont trully care for or indeed have the desire to look after the planet feeling it is something remote and not deeply related to us as indeed it is .Thank you Lyn I value your work and following a years course with you I too set up a power of eight circle which at present is virtual due to covid but an amazing resource for us all...Susan

  10. I am most greatful for ALL my experiences. Both the good one and less good one. I have learnt a lot about myself and others. And about life. Still I try to learn about all kind of love. To see everything which happens with love. That is for me a very hard lesson. Thank you.

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