This started out as a post, then turned into a long post, and finally into a short book! I considered splitting it into several posts, but I think it is better presented as one piece. It’s entirely up to you whether you settle in with a cup of tea for the long haul, or digest this in smaller bites, or even bail out part way through, but to reward your time it’s about everyone’s favourite subject – themselves!
All the New Year reflections and navel gazing will probably have had many of you thinking about the same general things, namely how to be healthier, happier, better versions of ourselves. I don’t have the time or will to get into a nuts and bolts discussion on how exactly we go about achieving these things, and even if I did I am dangerously unqualified to do so! But I have been ruminating on something that lies underneath all of this.
The Importance of Munr
What I want to talk about today is finding your munr, which in this case essentially means what drives you to do the things you do, what makes you happy, satisfied or content, the thing that gives you your reason for being. I’m not talking about the meaning of life, but rather the meaning of you.
I first came across this idea on the blog of writer and modern day Viking Bjorn Andreas Bull-Hansen. I watched a video he made that discussed Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin, as representing the duality of the human mind. Hugin (Thought) is the logical, rational, reasoning aspect of us, while Munin is translated as Memory. Bull-Hansen expands on this definition to attribute Munin to our passion, desire and will. Both need to be cultivated and cared for. We can have all the reasoning power and ability in the world, but if we don’t have the motivation or desire to act, we lose our purpose and meaning.
This concept really stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it a lot on and off since. It was brought back to the front of my mind at the end of last year when I read this article on a news site. It discusses the results of a study into the secrets of a long and happy life. One of the key findings was the need for ikigai, a Japanese concept that basically translates as our reason for being or our reason to get up in the morning. Having an ikigai was found to be every bit as important as eating your vegetables and exercising regularly.
Ikigai immediately made me think of munr. I know of both concepts via the fuzzy medium of translation, so they may not be exactly the same, but they did strike me as being very similar in both their meanings and importance. I may throw the word “happy” about here and there, but that’s just to add some variety. Munr/ikigai is more than a fleeting emotional state, and “happy” doesn’t seem to me to do them justice. To foster your ikigai and/or munr, you must first identify what they are in yourself. The timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks again shows its relevance: know thyself!
I’m sure many of us have had periods in our lives where we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. We go on long periods of soul searching, as if trying to find our calling by eliminating all the things we don’t want to do. I’m knocking on the door of 41, and I’m still deciding what I want to do when I grow up! To know from a young age what you want to do with your life, and to be able to see that through, is truly a gift. For the rest of us, it takes some work!
Having said that, paid work is not the only place we find munr. Our munr can come from anywhere, a hobby or other pastime, our role in our family, or some other kind of service. For many people, a job is all about putting food on the table and a roof over the head, and that alone is enough to be grateful for. Of course, rich people can be miserable too! Life comes with a lot of needs and demands to balance, and we can’t all make enough money doing something we love.
Finding Your Type
This is where I get to play the part of self-appointed know it all! This is also the part where I reiterate that all of this merely my own observations and opinions, based on nothing more than life experience. Anyway, the first step to finding your munr is to know which direction you must walk in and what you are looking for. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know if you’ve found it, and people who don’t know what they want are seldom happy with what they get. You may think you are motivated by one thing, but in actual fact you are after something else entirely. So before you start drinking wheatgrass smoothies or join the army, I present to you my list of munr-types.
Each of these types is a broad category that attempts to bring some focus to the different ways people find meaning and satisfaction in life. These are not meant to summarise your entire personality. There are obviously many more aspects that make individuals what they are. These types are about the ways in which we find our munr, in our own eyes and in a way that makes us truly feel that we have a purpose in life.
As with all these types of things, these categories will overlap in places, and most people will be a combination of a dominant type, with elements of other types in evidence too. It’s my hope that giving some thought to what motivates you and the ways in which you draw satisfaction from life will help point you in the right direction to find your munr. Do not read this as a straight personality test, but instead recognise the ways that you find purpose and meaning in any or all of what you do. Enough waffling! On with the list:
* Creators. Creators find their munr, as the name would suggest, through the act of creation. They are driven to make things, explore what’s possible within existing frameworks, and push boundaries in new directions. Whatever they are doing, Creators have a strong pull to be hands on and build things, whether they be physical or abstract. They don’t have to be original, but if they can be, then that is even more satisfying. Depending on the individual and their skills and background, coming up with a new philosophy or way to order the world can be just as rewarding as weaving a basket or building a boat. A mundane, service based existence will suffocate a Creator and leave them feeling unfulfilled. It’s not that they don’t see value in being of service, but they must meet their compulsion to create. Repetition in itself is also not necessarily a turn off. Many craft and tradespeople are Creators who can spend their lives perfecting their skills in very particular areas.
The arts are the obvious outlet for Creators, but they can be satisfied in any field that gives them the freedom to play and express themselves. Some Creators are not so obviously artistic, but are still drawn to do it themselves. That person who makes all their own furniture, knits or sews clothing or simply likes to assemble kit-sets or puzzles is probably a Creator. To them, it doesn’t always matter if something is perfect, and sometimes it doesn’t even have to be original (although for a Creator with an artistic bent, it will have to have some expression of their individuality!) What is important is that they did it, and they have something to show for it. For Creators looking to turn their hobbies into a career, there can be the danger of the thing they love turning into something they hate and resent.
It’s important to note that not everyone who enjoys or engages in creative activities is necessarily a Creator. They may be using a creative outlet as a means to satisfy another type, eg: the person who bakes elaborate cakes may be involved in something creative, but where they really get their kicks is entering competitions and trying to outdo everyone else. As creative as their cake baking may be, what they really are is:
* Competitors. It doesn’t really matter too much to a Competitor exactly what they are doing, so long as they are striving to be the best, they are happy. Naturally, Competitors are drawn to actual competitions, be they sporting or other tests of skill, or areas that are measurable and it is easy to compare themselves with others, eg: business. Competitors need an outlet for their nature, and if they don’t have a suitable one, their competitiveness can be displayed in less appropriate areas. If the thrill of competition, the heat of battle and the elusive taste of victory keep you going and push you to be your best, then look for things that are structured around healthy competition.
Competitors caught in no win situations, or duelling with others who are not interested in competing, will end up frustrated and disillusioned. It is also important to make the distinction between Competitors and those who have an over-inflated view of themselves. A true Competitor is driven by the competition itself. Some people simply have to be the best, and see it as their birth right that all must recognise. They are not interested in having to prove themselves, the world should just bow down to their superiority. This would be totally unsatisfying to a Competitor, as it is the struggle that motivates them, not the victory. There are many stories of athletes, explorers or other goal focused people who have worked doggedly towards an objective for a long period of time. Once it is achieved, they feel a brief period of elation and then fall into depression. It was not the goal itself that gave them meaning, but rather the act of working towards it. Without a race to run, a record to beat, a target to hit or a mountain to climb, a Competitor is left drifting in the doldrums.
* Pioneers. The munr of a Pioneer is always around the next bend in the road or river. These are the thrill seekers, risk takers and adrenaline junkies of the world. While I’m type-casting Pioneers a bit here as being physical, outdoors types, this isn’t always the case. More sedentary pastimes can fulfil a Pioneer, so long as there is scope to keep feeding their hunger for new experiences and sensations. Repetition and routine are kryptonite to a Pioneer. They have a burning need to try new things, start new adventures, and draw energy from taking risks that would give other types the shits. Their exploits don’t even have to make sense to the rest of us, Pioneers can only thrive with continual fresh input from the world around them.
Pioneers can cross over into the realms of the Competitor or Creator, but they derive their meaning from taking on the unknown and adding variety to their lives. These people really like to push the boundaries, but not because they need to beat someone else or leave a legacy behind. Being the first to do something is less competitive for Pioneers. It’s not so much that they did it before anyone else, but that they haven’t done it yet either. They do it simply for the experience of doing it. Why did Sir Edmund Hilary climb Mount Everest? Because it was there. Sure, he got a lot of adulation for being the first person to do so, but that wasn’t why he did it, as evidenced by the fact that he carried on adventuring when he could have dined out on his achievement for the rest of his life. This trait can also be seen in many people who continue to climb Everest. There are Competitors who have to set some sort of record along the way (oldest, youngest, first person to carry a live fish to the top…) but there are also plenty of Pioneers who still risk life and limb to ascend the world’s highest peak. There’s no prize at the top, and it’s been done before. But it hasn’t been done by them, which is why they do it.
Pioneers can have a wide hedonistic streak, and can appear self-involved to the point of being selfish and reckless. I’ve often watched people attempting dangerous feats like kayaking across oceans, and wondered what the point of it all is. But I’m not a Pioneer. I don’t see the reward that justifies the risk. I would see simply surviving such an experience as the only reward! But a Pioneer sees the experience itself as the reward, and the risk of death weighs less on their mind than the slow death of an unexciting life. I expect many Pioneers death notices or eulogies feature the words “he died doing what he loved”!
* Maintainers. Maintainers are most fulfilled when engaged in creating and maintaining stable lives. They prioritise security and aren’t so keen on sudden changes. They are homebodies at heart, and whether they are extroverted or introverted they place great value on peaceful relationships. Maintainers thrive when supporting others, and can gain true satisfaction from the achievements of those they have supported. They also have their own achievements, but aren’t as self-focused as some other types. For all the high-flyers hogging the limelight, there is an army of Maintainers that quietly keep the world from falling apart.
Maintainers can have a hard time of it in the eyes of some. The things they value are not always reflected by society as being glamorous or aspirational. They don’t have the mystique of Creators, the excitement of Pioneers, or receive the adulation of Competitors. Sure, most of us acknowledge the worth of the Maintainer, but there’s frequently a subtext of boredom or even subtle derision from other types. Even when areas of interest to Maintainers are in the spotlight, there’s often a strong element of competitiveness or creativity. For example, no one seems interested in how to make a nice meal any more. It has to be the best meal ever cooked, get the most likes on social media, win a cooking competition or be something no one has ever eaten before. The Maintainer does not see things this way. They are motivated to make a meal that brings enjoyment and good feeling to others. It can be a new, ground breaking recipe and go on to break the internet, or it can be a familiar dish served countless times before, but all of that is secondary to the Maintainer. The important thing is a good meal in good company, everything else is just gravy! (see what I did there?)
Many people can struggle when forced to take on the role of a Maintainer. While some are at their most content pottering about in the garden, running a household and managing daily family life, others can feel stifled and resentful of the demands on them. A natural Maintainer gets pleasure from giving pleasure, and doesn’t feel they are missing out on anything by not being a Competitor or a Pioneer. Other types may call them boring or unoriginal, and society may bombard them with pressure to be unique, the best and the most popular, but a self-aware Maintainer can be happier than anyone. I would hypothesise that a study of centenarians would reveal a disproportionate number of Maintainers, living long and contented lives.
* Seekers, Scholars and Scientists. I’ve grouped these three together as they are essentially variations of the same type. These are the people who are driven by knowledge. They value understanding, insight and wisdom as their own rewards.
Seekers tend to be more spiritual in nature. What they are seeking exactly can be hard to pin down. They lean towards more philosophical or religious subjects, and often cultivate self-improvement or a higher state of consciousness. Seekers can appear to be on a quest that even they don’t fully understand. That’s because the goal they seek is understanding itself. The pursuit of contentment may in fact be where they find their aim.
The focus of Scholars is more centred in the “real world”, in its history and creations. Scholars collate and link information, record the comings and goings of the rest of us and analyse the work of their predecessors. In many ways, the work of a Scholar is never done, such is the wealth of material they have to work with, which I think is just how they like it.
Scientists are driven by the “how” of things. These are the people who will pull something apart and (maybe!) put it back together again purely to understand how it works. The details and intricacies of machinery, computers and the natural world are all waiting to be discovered by Scientists. They gain great satisfaction from inventing new technology or figuring out complex puzzles, but once the code is cracked they are on to the next thing.
As I’ve mentioned, these are broad categories and there will be a certain degree of crossover for any individual. Some of these types naturally complement each other. Many Maintainers will also have a strong element of the Creator about them. Seekers, Scholars and Scientists are in some ways Pioneers. Competitors can be found in any of these types, as they will turn anything into a competition!
Your Role In The Band
To add a further layer to these types, I think we all express these types in different ways. These three expressions can be cross-referenced with the types above to try and give a more accurate picture of how we follow those types:
* The Conductor. Conductors like to be in charge, take control and call the shots. They like to do things their way, and they like other people to do things their way too. This doesn’t necessarily make them over-bearing control freaks, the world needs leaders! Conductors are often the people that initiate things, and care deeply about outcomes. They may be bossy pains in the ass at times, but when the shit hits the fan, it’s good to have a Conductor around to make things happen. Conductors communicate in a direct manner.
* The Harmonizer. Harmonizers participate, contribute and generally go with the flow. They have their limits, but a Harmonizer enjoys a shared experience. If a Harmonizer’s needs aren’t met, they are more likely to go elsewhere than kick up a fuss. They will take control if it means order is restored, but aren’t as eager to be calling the shots as Conductors. This doesn’t mean they won’t be leaders, but when they do take control they prefer to build consensus and lead in a democratic fashion. Harmonizers see leadership more as a role in a team than as a source of power and prestige. Having good communication skills is essential to being a successful Harmonizer.
* The Soloist. Independence is the top priority for Soloists. They don’t like being told what to do, and they have no desire to tell anyone else what to do either. They like to do their own thing and aren’t too worried if other people approve or not. They would rather be wrong doing it their way than be right by following orders. Soloists can be amazing communicators, profound and unique, or they may have the eloquence of a potato. Not being understood is one of life’s great frustrations, but it’s the price of independence for some Soloists.
We can shift between being Conductors, Harmonizers or Soloists. You might be a Conductor in your professional life, but be happiest in your home life as a Harmonizer. Indeed, your job might require you to be a Conductor, even if it isn’t your natural disposition. Someone who spends most of their time as a Harmonizer may find great release and reward in a hobby where they can be an unrestrained Soloist. Remember, this is all about finding your munr, and what may be your dominant mode of behaviour, whether by nature or external pressures, may not be where you find it. Sometimes we need to change our environment, sometimes we need to change ourselves.
These three roles interact with the types in a way that it is helpful to understand. You may be a Competitor, for example, but if you are also a socially motivated Harmonizer you would be best off playing a team sport rather than an individual pursuit. Likewise, a Harmonizer Creator will function best in a group. On their own, they may lack inspiration and energy, and need some support around them to realise their visions. A Soloist Creator, however, can find themselves constricted by any need to compromise. They need to be able to follow their own whims and instincts exactly as they wish. Musicians provide numerous examples of both these combinations. Conductor Creators can also be seen in Prince and James Brown, both musicians notoriously controlling and demanding of their colleagues and collaborators. If they had twenty arms, they wouldn’t have needed anyone else, and would probably be have been happier as Soloists!
The System In Action
If this was some sort of self-help book or academic study, I would have some research and in-depth case studies to help illustrate my points. But seeing as I’m just pulling all this out of my ass, I’ll have to use myself to demonstrate how I see all this theory being applied!
I am primarily a Creator, with a strong dose of Maintainer thrown in. In pretty much everything I do, I have to make my own. Play a game? I’ll make my own! Like that table? I can build one! Got an idea? I’ve got my own! It doesn’t have to be the best, and it doesn’t always have to be that original (this post may be a shining example of both of these points!) but I get as much satisfaction from the process as I do the outcome. I have lots of interests that I flit between, but one thing that I’ve stuck with most of my life is music. Right from when I first learned to play the recorder as small child, I took pleasure from learning the work of others, but even greater pleasure in using that knowledge to create something of my own.
It took me a long time to figure out that the creating was the part that gave me what I needed. As I got older and learned cooler instruments than the recorder (sorry to any recorder die-hards out there) I continued to tinker about making my own music. Being young and impressionable, I thought the thing to do was to be in a band and see how far I could take it. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? For various reasons, lack of talent, introverted personality and cautious, dutiful nature chief among them, I never cracked it as a muso. What made this all too common failure even worse, was that I was miserable along the way.
What was making me miserable was that I didn’t know I was a Creator. I knew I was creative, but I was acting like a Competitor or a Pioneer as I pursued that creativity. I put all sorts of pressures on myself to get out there and be successful, even at a very modest level, because I thought that was what I wanted. Actually, I hadn’t really thought about it at all. I was just following what other people thought of as successful. Or to be even more precise, what other people with loud voices said was successful. I’d never asked the question, what makes me happy about making music?
I’m not really a Competitor. I can be competitive at times, but it doesn’t make me happy. Competition always seems to end in tears for someone, and I like it less and less as I get older. Treating music like some sort of ladder to be climbed just stressed me out and took me away from the things I enjoyed. I’m not a Pioneer either, in fact I’m very much the opposite. Doing “thrilling” things like performing don’t get me out of bed in the morning, they leave me paralysed in bed with a blanket over my head. I had taken something that I enjoyed as a Creator and thought that I needed to be a Competitor or a Pioneer for it to mean something.
Now days, I’m a lot greyer and a little bit wiser. My Maintainer streak has grown as I am no longer seduced by all those loud voices telling me what I want. I don’t want to play big shows in front of crowds of people. I don’t want to play any shows. I’m not that interested in having an audience at all. I’m a Creator, and all I really need to be happy is to create. I write songs and music that no one else will ever hear, and I love doing it. I might share some of it at some point, but then again I might not. When it comes to my own music, I’m a Soloist. I’m making it purely to please myself, so I don’t want anyone else’s input. Collaboration may make it “better”, but I’m not interested in “better”. That would detract from how I find my munr.
I also enjoy music as a Harmonizer, but only because I recognise that is what I’m doing. I play regularly with a couple of other people, jamming out some classic rock covers and other old stuff. I don’t have much input into song selection, and I don’t want to either. I don’t bring along any of my original music, and I have no intention of doing so. I really enjoy our sessions because it’s fun and rewarding to play with other people in its own right. Having my Harmonizer hat on lets me relax and appreciate the simple pleasure of playing in a group. It also makes me a better musician which helps with my own stuff. If this was my only musical outlet, I would probably feel creatively stifled and end up miserable again.
When I make my own music, I find out where I sit on the Scholar/Scientist spectrum. I’m a Scholar in that I’m very interested in the history of music and works of other musicians. I listen all the time, and like to make connections and spot influences. I also have a near savant-like ability to remember trivial details (musical and otherwise) but unfortunately no such talent with important information. If you’re after someone for your quiz team, I’m your man. But if you’re after someone who can retain important information in a responsible workplace, not so much! But my Scholarly bent only goes so far. I wouldn’t be happy to just collect a room full of albums (if you’re under 25, google “albums” for a history lesson) as that wouldn’t meet my creative urge.
I’m definitely not a Scientist. I have a passing interest in how things work, but I don’t get any pleasure from this knowledge on its own. So long as things work, and I know how to work them as much as I need to know to pursue my creative nature, then I don’t really don’t care how they work. Long discussions about cars or circuit boards bore me to tears. If this keyboard keeps working so I can write this, then I’m happy. It could be filled with jelly beans for all I know or care, just so long as it keeps working! When I’m making music, I’m not a huge gear head. I know people who like collecting instruments and gadgets and all manner of crap more than they like playing. They like to fiddle about with it all to discover sounds that inspire them. I come at it from a completely different direction. I hear the sounds in my head first, and then find a way to make them. Once I’ve found that way, I’m done. The gear is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
I’m a Seeker in that I have belief and give value to the more mysterious aspects of our existence. I tend to let it come to me more than actively seek it out, though.
If you made it through all that, well done! Hopefully you have taken away the gist of what I’m getting at, which is:
* To live a content and fulfilled life, we need to have some purpose to our existence and some way of meeting our inner needs.
* Those inner needs can be met in many ways and activities, but our underlying sources of satisfaction tend to be the same.
* Recognising the reason we get satisfaction from certain things (how they meet the needs of our type/types) helps us to identify the things that will nourish our munr. It can be easy to mistake or overlook why we enjoy certain activities.
* We can refine how we engage in these things to suit our personalities, which will help us to maintain our engagement and not let our munr-giving activities get turned into something we hate.
* We can’t be engaged in munr-giving activities all the time, but we need to have some way to do the things that give us meaning, or life can feel like we’re just going through the motions, even if everything looks rosy on the surface.
* We can have multiple types, but most people will generally be dominant in one or two areas. Competence in one type of behaviour does not necessarily make it a source of munr, eg: the fast runner who gets no pleasure from competing, and would rather be collecting stamps. Only us ourselves can fully decide what type we really are.
I fully acknowledge that all of this is totally unscientific psychobabble. It may help you, it may not. But where’s the harm? Probably only in the fact that I will have wasted a few hours of my time. But I’ve enjoyed writing this, because I’m a Creator, and that’s what I do. I create, when I’m not busy being a Maintainer, or avoiding being a Pioneer or Scientist! It should also be said that this is really just a first draft, ideas that have been noted down as they’ve come to me. I feel like it probably needs more to round it out and make my points more clearly. Or maybe it needs a lot less, I don’t know! Feedback is welcome.