What Brings Your Life Meaning?

WinterSolsticeArchIn my process of seeking joy this past year, I ended up reading a lot of articles and watching TED talks about what makes people happy, what people regret, and what gets people through the trauma and difficulty. Are you looking for more meaning in your life?

For the Winter Solstice I’m thinking a lot about what brings me joy, and I’ll be posting a bit more on my own process this past year about seeking joy. However, it’s worth starting out with some basics.

If you read a bit about existential psychology and philosophy, it’s clear that one of the things that impacts human physical and psychological health is a sense of our own existence, a reason for existing, a purpose. When we have a purpose and a focus as part of our identity, it’s possible to weather the dark times and challenges. In fact, this comes up a lot in spiritual work; when people have no sense of meaning in their lives, they flounder. They struggle.

I can honestly say that it’s my focus, my work, my sense of purpose within that work, that has been my silver thread through the labyrinth of pain that is dealing with depression. It’s the sliver of light that called me forward when I dealt with abuse from my peers in school as a kid, and from my more recent abusive relationship.

Often times when I teach workshops on “Finding Your Personal Magic,” finding meaning is the essence of that.

Meaning and purpose isn’t the only important thing, and there are other facets to happiness and joy. In fact, I’ve sometimes focused so much on what I find meaningful and my soul’s work that I’ve neglected things like friendships and relationships.

I’ve found some guidance on those from the regrets of the dying and the experiences of people who have recovered from trauma. Here are a few articles that inspired me in my own work this past year, and they might provide some direction for you. Are you seeking joy?

Sense of meaning and purpose in life linked to longer lifespan
A “study of 9,050 English people with an average age of 65 found that the people with the greatest wellbeing were 30% less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least wellbeing.”

Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life
“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says Hill.

Top 5 regrets of the dying in hospice 

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Top 5 Post Traumatic Growth
People experienced “greater appreciation of life, changed sense of priorities, warmer, more intimate relationships, greater sense of personal strength, and recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life and spiritual development.

If you’re really interested in learning more about the importance of meaning in our lives, one additional resource is Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s worth pointing out that Frankl was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who wrote about his horrific experiences in the camps, so the first part of the book is a difficult read. That being said, Frankl was also a psychiatrist, and his experiences in the camps led him to more deeply understand how meaning helped people survive the camps.

I also recommend the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Looks like you can also find some of his work online if you search on his name; here’s a TED Talk, and of course Wikipedia outlining the essence of his work with the concept of flow.

 

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