Aspirations as portals to meaning

02 Jan 2006|Darrel Rhea

New Year’s resolutions are almost always well intended…but unfortunately, they’re usually short-lived. A couple of days ago I discovered an interesting website, 43 Things, that provides online community support for its users to achieve their aspirations throughout the year. It’s an engaging concept, for a community-oriented website. What’s even more interesting are the goals that are cited the most by the thousands of people who make their declarations public. They tell us a lot about what is meaningful to Americans today.

The most often cited goal declared on 43 Things is to “stop procrastinating.” This makes sense for a site about goal setting; it probably reveals users’ underlying motivation for interacting with the site in the first place. Not surprisingly, next up is the all-American goal to lose weight. This goal is complemented by many others that are related in some way, including “get in shape,” “exercise more,” or “eat healthier,” but these are way down the list compared to weight loss.

The third most cited goal is to “write a book.” (This especially caught my eye, having just published one.) How fascinating it is that more people want to write a book than “fall in love” or “get married.” Twice as many people want to write a book than “make new friends.” Why do so many people aspire to this? Why are these goals more important than the hundreds of others?

Clearly, people’s aspirations are a portal for us to understand what is meaningful to them. That is, we can begin to determine what is meaningful for individuals by what they aspire to do, to be, to accomplish. It just takes a bit more exploring through the opening that these declarations provide. Most people view their goals as possibilities for their future. Meaning, on the other hand, is a right-now phenomenon, what we create for ourselves in the present that has connotation, worth or import. Examining what is behind each person’s declarations for their desired future is revealing, though in some ways it is like going backwards—from the declared future to the present.

And finally, that I would begin to examine the correlation between the published aspirations in 43Things.com and “meaning” is interesting – given that “accomplishment” is the first of fifteen meanings we list in our book Making Meaning. “Redemption” is another one; surely this is a big driver for New Year’s resolutions!

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