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Opa! That's the traditional, zestful Greek expression of joy, excitement, and inspiration. It may also be the key to living a happier and more balanced life.

Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon certainly think so. The consultants, who are married, live in Santa Fe, N.M., but have ties to Toronto, where they previously worked, and to Greece, where in searching for Mr. Pattakos's roots they found village life offered a message to harried and dissatisfied North Americans.

They believe it starts with meaning. Mr. Pattakos was mentored by Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, whose Man's Search for Meaning has been declared one of the 10 most influential books of the 20th century. The challenge many of us face, the couple believe, is that we are chasing goals such as happiness, pleasure and power that aren't leading to deeper meaning in our lives. We are adrift.

Having such meaning in our lives helps us to enjoy our days, despite their ups and downs. It gives us passion and fulfillment. It builds resilience, to overcome difficulties – Dr. Frankl found meaning in the concentration camp, and felt that allowed him to survive. The couple see meaning as the fuel that keeps the human spirit moving forward at all times, not just the good periods. "Meaning is all around us. Every moment has meaning. But it is up to us to find it," Mr. Pattakos said in an interview.

Meaning must be backed by what they call, in the title of a new book, The OPA! Way. OPA is not just the general spirit of celebration they found in Greece but also three paths for finding meaning and celebration that are exemplified in the letters of the word:

O for Others: Connect meaningfully with those around you.

P for Purpose: Engage with deeper purpose.

A for Attitude: Embrace life with the proper attitude.

Greeks connect with others through the village – even during the worst days after the recent financial collapse, the couple found people comfortable that they would be looked after and supported by others, in the village where they lived or where they had been born, if now ensconced in an urban area. For us, the village can be people at work, or neighbours or family members. But we don't invest time in our villages, always too busy with activities to truly share and understand other village members. "In the villages in Greece, they took coffee breaks – true coffee breaks – to get to know one another," Ms. Dundon said in the interview.

When Greeks met the couple, they wanted to know everything about the newcomers, not just about their jobs or what brought them to the village. It was a more authentic connection, trying to connect with the whole person, while relationships in North America tend to be more transactional in nature. "We talk in North America about 'It takes a village to raise a child' but we don't operate as a village. We know people who have worked in a building for 20 years and don't know their own colleagues," he said.

We typically come home, click open the garage door with an electronic opener, drive inside, and disappear from view, unseen and apart from our neighbours. We may spend part of the evening on Facebook, with "friends," but the surveys showing how lonely many people feel indicate we lack authentic connections.

Purpose flows from knowing yourself, the prescription of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Heraclitus. It means peeling away the masks we tend to wear to find our core essence, which can be a mainspring to living an authentic, happy, purposeful life with meaning. "The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going," they quote Epictetus in their book.

They found that Greeks seem to live without masks – more fully themselves, not putting on airs. When you know yourself, you can act in concert with your deeper urges. That will bring joy, as your desires and actions are aligned – presumably driving you toward what is meaningful to you. It creates energy. When you are out of sync, you feel it, perhaps through physical illness or a general dissatisfaction with life.

The Greeks embrace the fullness of life. Their message: Life will have its ups and downs, but we can choose the attitude we embrace. That involves admitting to our fears but not being deterred by them, whether it's fear of success, of failure, of rejection, of loss, of change, or of the unknown (including death). Fears can paralyze us, blocking us from living life to the fullest, so we need to transcend them. "We need to prepare for full catastrophe of life. We need to build resilience to handle the tough moments," he said.

Meaning can build that resilience. And ultimately, resilience is what helps us to find a modicum of balance in an ever-changing world. They don't believe you can ever find and hold balance, because it's a moving target. If you achieve balance, things will change and quickly knock you off-balance. But resilience – and the opa way – help us to not be overwhelmed as we deal with the ups and downs of life.


Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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