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Book Review: The Little Book on Meaning by Laura Berman Fortgang

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Do you have a good life with the usual (or annoying) ups and downs and want fewer, shorter down spots? Do you experience too many emotional landslides triggered by stress, frustration, and disappointments — causing you to think your life isn't working as well as it could? As a result of either, have you ever wondered, "what's it all about" or how can I find more connection in my life? If at the end of each day, you want to feel more satisfied or be able to put yourself back on a meaningful path, The Little Book on Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It by Laura Berman Fortgang will be a worthwhile read for you.

Do not expect this to be a typical give-you-your-answers kind of book. Rather, The Little Book on Meaning is a reflective how-to on getting yourself on the path to find your own answers. Whether you have been puffed up by success then worn down by stress, defeated by failure, immobilized by unexpected life challenges, frustrated by change, numbed out/ bored by never changing drab routines or overwhelmed by the demands of a fast-paced and complicated life, Fortgang offers ideas about how to find lasting meaning in your life. Her story just might surprise you.

The author is a nationally renowned speaker and life coach, so I was expecting a 'cocky-I-did-it-so-you-can-too' personal stream of wisdom tale. Not the case. Fortgang reveals a 20-plus year struggle with management of her depression intermixed with considerable success and fame. Her tale is a humble one drawn on wisdom from a multitude of sources including her study at an interfaith seminary, which resulted in her ordination as an interfaith minister. She exposes her personal flaws and failings, while framing them as part of a perfectly normal life pattern. From each she emerges with a more meaningful life — because she chooses to do so.

I applaud the author's understanding of relationships in Part Two: Minister, Chapter 6 -They Came for You and Chapter 8 – I Am Here to Be Seen. She reviews the bilateral impact of relationships between parents and children. Children generally shape us as much if not more than we shape them. Fortgang also references marital partners who experience infidelity. We can learn to understand our impact on the other and receive awareness of their impact on us. This is the systemic give and take of our relationships and the people we simply just meet. Relationships and exchanges with others go both ways.

My favorite chapters were in Part Four-Mind — a no-brainer choice for me since I am a life coach and cognitive-systemic marriage and family therapist for over 20 years. In Chapter 11, Re-Mind Me, Fortgang revealed a bumper sticker that epitomizes her life motto: Don't believe everything you think.

"… choose to be re-minded. It is a chance to question our disappointment or pain or resentment, and to stop assuming what we think is the truth." (p.140)

Any time an event or conversation hits us wrong; we have the opportunity to create a cognitive shift by using the power of our minds. Instead of distorting meaning and letting negative emotions erupt from our interpretation; we can take charge of our lives and our meaning through creating a mental shift by considering other possibilities and interpretations.

The title alone of Chapter 13 provides a great frame of reference for finding meaning — Shut Your Mouth.

"To quiet the mind, we need to shut our mouths. Once we do, what we
are thinking backs up into the brain." (p.159)

In Chapter 14, Judge Me Not, I found a wonderful discussion about my absolute favorite flaw — the need to be right and pass judgment. I declare this as my favorite flaw because I was once a very judgmental person — until I worked for 11 years as a probation and parole officer. That amazing experience knocked me right out of my judgmental shoes. I also see in my work as a therapist and life coach, that being judgmental is frequently a process outside of awareness, which insidiously disrupts life meaning and intimacy. I agree with Fortgang.

"When we clear our minds from the judgment of others and ourselves and
even situations, we are free. Meaning shifts from being a sense of
superiority to a sense of oneness in connection." (p.180)

Now let me make one more confession. I do not make much time for reading books. When I feel compelled to justify my choice, I point to the reading I do online as sufficient for my enlightenment. If you are also one who makes little time for book reading, start by reading my favorite Chapters 11, 13, and 14 of this book. You will likely find yourself drawn to reading the rest.

I do not consider this book as food for thought. I believe it is the appetizer which will propel your hunger forward to secure a path for consistent meaning in your life.

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