Sources of Meaning and Purpose

October 11


Our triathlon champions 75 and over identified fourteen sources of meaning that they believe have enabled them to age as well as they have while enjoying the experience fully.

The first ten are sources identified by the co-authors. Not all participants in this project are likely to derive meaning from all of the fourteen sources. We did not seek conformity or consensus in gathering data for this chapter – just varied ideas for your consideration. Also, the attribution of a source ofmeaning to one participant is not meant to imply that only this person identified this particular source in his or her listing.

  1. To be consciously aware of life’s transience – This strengthens an appreciation of being alive while enriching daily pleasures.
  2. To recognize that successful aging requires disciplined living – This was true when young and only increased in importance in later life.
  3. To know that aging well requires mindfulness – Doing things everyday that can be time consuming, tedious and physically distressing (e.g., swimming, biking, strength training and so on), but when completed prove satisfying.
  4. To favor reason and science as the primary way of making sense of the world – By declining to believe without evidence or embrace faith without facts often renders people vulnerable to dogmas that breed anxieties and fears, low self-worth and burdensome guilts.
  5. To pursue countless distractions of a positive nature – All take one’s mind from existential angst associated with stark realities, the kind that led Ecclesiastes to lament, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Ken Fleischhacker added the following: Considering the enormity of time and space, I’ve developed an active sense of my own insignificance but if future events should prove that in fact I’m the center of everything, I will make suitable adjustments to my meaning perspective. Alas, the likelihood of this development is not great.
  6. To see the big picture of our place in the world – The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are but a small part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of millions of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars with their own solar systems. This fact, unknown or unaccepted throughout human history until quite recently, suggests it’s not all about us. If, in the grand scheme of time and space all life seems ultimately meaningless, meaning sufficient can nonetheless be found in every jewel of joy, every particle of happiness. Wherever we find ourselves on this pale blue dot, recognizing impermanence can be a liberating per
  7. To appreciate art, music, drama, love and more – Doing what we can to get by, to enjoy, to look after family, friends and the communities of which we’re a part.
  8. To identify with and pursue a cause or mission – This could be as simple as to live well and die happy or as complex and daunting as to save the whales, end world hunger, elect a president worthy of the office – the possibilities are almost endless.
  9. To be of service to others – According to existential thinkers and other students of meaning, this is the surest path to happiness. Among the best known proponents of this position were Viktor Frankl, Irving Yalom and Albert Camus.
  10. To remember and appreciate your inexplicable good fortune on a regular basis – Life is an amazing and unlikely gift from an inexplicable universe. You could have been born into wretched circumstances at an awful time, raised to believe improbable , preposterous and hateful ideas or to have died early in life of disease, famine, war or other misfortune. So, even if you’re not on Forbes annual list of richest people or a superstar athlete, celebrity or prime mover, you still won the good fortune lottery.
  11. To guide others – Coaching and activities related to coaching was identified by more than half the participating champions. Jon Adamson cited mentoring, enjoying the company of others socially and athletically, traveling to interesting destinations and rendering and receiving support at races as rich meaning sources.
  12. To feel good about how we lived our lives – Winston Allen mentioned the importance of our sense of the services we rendered, how we treated our families and our fellow men and women. This is a variant on the Golden Rule or one of Robert Ingersoll’s qualities of Improved Man, namely, he will give all others the rights he claims for himself.
  13. To reflect on a few clear and separate key segments of life – Elizabeth Brackett identified three major sources of meaning – 1) family, 2) profession/career and 3) training and competing in triathlons. Perhaps as an afterthought, she added, and frankly, standing on top of a podium feels pretty good, too.
  14. To derive all’s of one’s meaning from while giving all credit to the Christian God – Sharon Roggenbuck: The most important source of meaning for me has been my faith. I realize everything I have, everything I have accomplished, has come from God. I feel close to God. I pray frequently, especially during the swim portion of triathlons.