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The 12-Rectangle Solution, Part 2


Editor's Note: Part 1 of this series introduced the concepts of “selective attention” and “visualization” – or more colloquially, “What you pay attention to will grow” and When you see it, you can achieve it” – both helpful in achieving our goals and dreams. Check out The 12-Rectangle Solution Part 1 to catch up or refresh your memory before diving into Part 2, below.

By Denise Connell, Publisher; Éclairity.org Founder

How was this possible?! For years I had longed for this moment: sitting at a café table with a cup of chocolat chaud in the middle of an obscure 12th century village in Provence, France, writing… and all I wanted was to go back home.

It’s funny how dreams can change once you get them.

(I promise I’ll share the next step of the 12-Rectangle Solution for moving closer to our goals and dreams, but allow me this wider lane into it. It will make that chocolat chaud all the tastier when we get there.)

Ever since graduating from college, “happiness” for me was getting to France – not for a couple of days or week, but for a month, or two or three. I dreamed of it, wrote about it, and pined after it. Every stressful day experienced helping people find houses when I was a realtor, or pressure-pressed nights finishing a workshop when I was a pastor, or all the ordinary painful points along the promenade of parenting that marked the journey (alongside extraordinary joys) – they were all punctuated with an exclamation point that kept me going: one day I’ll be in France!

And finally, after a particularly hard, five-year leadership contract ended in the nonprofit sector, I felt released from my calling, and my France dream came true. I had the time. I had the freedom. I had the funds. (Well, probably not the latter, but we’ll find them when we need them, am I right?) I booked two months just outside Grignan in a stone-stepped, wood-doored, clay-tiled dwelling that monks from the nearby Notre-Dame d’Aiguebelle Abbey lived in, and farmed the land around, over nine centuries ago.

I was going alone, with plans to plow furrows of long-delayed happiness. A monk’s earthen house seemed perfect.

It was maybe during the second week there that I started checking the calendar to see how much longer I had to stay. When every day is filled with doing precisely what you’ve dreamed of doing in order to feel happiness through and through – eating pastries, roaming farmers' markets, driving through lavender-laden fields and castle-dotted villages, and of course, sipping lots of hot chocolate while writing pages of riveting thoughts that went absolutely no where – no where was exactly where I felt I was going. And I realized with perfect monk-like clarity: pleasure without purpose wasn’t as pleasurable as I’d imagined.

A life free from stress or pain or pressure sounds marvelous, until we realize that a “happy” life is not the same as a meaningful one.

Take the thought experiment that the 20th century philosopher, Robert Nozick, postured during his anarchy days. “Happiology,” or the study of happiness as the ultimate way to live, came a few decades after him, but he was well ahead of that curve, shooting it down.

According to Emily S. Smith, who wrote The Power of Meaning, “Nozick was a “happiness skeptic. Imagine, Nozick said, that you could live in a tank that would ‘give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time, you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain.’ He then asks, ‘Should you plug into this machine for life…?’

If happiness is truly life’s end goal, most people would choose to feel happy in the tank. It would be an easy life, where trauma, sadness, and loss are switched off – forever. You could always feel good, maybe even important.”

The reality: Most people who were asked if this is the life they would choose for themselves, or for their children, said no. Why? Because while they might feel good, their life wouldn’t actually be good. “A person ‘floating in the tank,’ as Nozick put it, is ‘an indeterminate blob.’ He has no identity, no projects and goals to give his life value.”

Nozick was on to something, as were many positive psychologists that followed after him who started shifting from focusing on happiness as a goal, to figuring out how to help people live a truly meaningful and fulfilling life. A life of value.

I bring all this up to lay a foundation for the strongest route possible to our hopes and dreams becoming a reality.

If we desire to live our best life possible, and if we want to be truly happy, we must take into consideration what science, and life-experience, and even many religions teach: pursuing happiness as an end in itself, in the long run, will end in misery. True and lasting happiness comes as a by-product when we are pursuing a life of meaning, a life ultimately not focused on ourselves as the end goal but on something beyond us, for the betterment of the world.

Unlike my first dream-to-reality flight to France, perhaps when considering goals and dreams that we want to visualize and pay attention to, we might be better off choosing ones that will truly make life worth living. Those are the ones that will:

a. Use and build on our skills, strengths and talents – our potential


b. Pursuing and doing something we love – our passion

in order to…

c. Make a difference in someone’s life – big or small, it will help make the world a better place.

potential + passion + making a difference = a meaningful life.

I ended up leaving France after just five weeks when I realized that I was missing my purpose.

France was, and still is, on my heart to visit again. But when I go back, it will be hand-in-hand with that trifecta of meaningful living: a dream that pairs my potential and passion with difference-making plans.

WHAT'S NEXT? Ask the deeper questions & take action

Step two in this 12-Rectangle Solution is going to save you time and money – and wasted dreams in France – if living your best, most fulfilling life is your hope.

Look at your own list of dreams and goals from last week, and ask the deeper questions:

  • Which one(s) will give your life meaning, beyond the pleasure of it?
  • Which one(s) will help you craft a life that matters – not just for you, but could make a difference in someone else’s life, too?
  • Which one(s) will grow and stretch you to become a better, healthier, more well-rounded person – not just by focusing inward, but by opening you up to connecting with others and contributing to the world around you?
  • What relationships, activities, projects will bring more meaning and beauty and depth to the world because you pursued them?

Aiming to include at least some of the more significant dreams and goals that help us connect and contribute to something beyond ourselves will give our own lives significance, meaning, and value… and ultimately net us a life we love and find worth living.

And now, you’ll be ready for the final step of The 12-Rectangle Solution. This time next week, when I sip on that chocolat chaud, I’m hoping you’ll have your own cup to sip along, too, because France has nothing on dreams and goals when shared, and moved forward, together.

Faith and Inspiration, What makes life worth living? How can I be happier? What makes a life meaningful? Tips for moving dreams and goals forward, Éclairity.org


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