“The meaning of life is to find YOUR meaning”
Life sucks, well sometimes – let’s face this. And it makes us believe that there is no way to come out of this deep hell hole that we are in right now. But does it have to be like this? If I tell you that it’s in us to make our lives more meaningful and happier, do you think it’s too far stretched? The answer is NO and let me try to explain why.
Life has never been a bed of roses for me and I guess it’s true for most of us, at least many of us. I have had situations in life that almost shattered me but at the same time, I am grateful that I had these difficult moments, because we learn from difficulty. These are the experiences that make us strong. I have had difficulties in every sphere of my life, yet I have been able to have a successful career, earn a degree, earn money, have a family, take on responsibilities, and do chores. I thought to myself: isn’t that awesome? I embarked on a journey to make my life meaningful despite all the adversities and as I work on my life skills, I realized I can help others make their lives meaningful too.
I started scouring the internet and reading books to learn practical tips to help improve my relationship with the emotion and I also took a course on The Science of Wellbeing offered by Yale University. I love when the theories are backed by science and data and I was amazed to see that our emotional wellbeing is so much about science and is so attainable. Now I must say that I have definitely not reached Nirvana, but I have learned a thing or two and I wish to share it with you with the hope that it will help you in some ways, however insignificant it might be.
Here are 5 such ways to bring more meaning to your life:
Have a Purpose in Life
A purpose is something that gives a sense of direction to your life and something that makes you feel that you are contributing to the world in some way. Recently I came across the term IKIGAI. It’s a Japanese concept which loosely translates to ‘a reason for being’ or the reason you get up in the morning. So many times we associate our purpose in life to just earning money or our career and that can create an existential frustration, which in turn can affect our self-worth negatively. But you are not just your bank balance, you are so much more. So take some time and set out on finding your true purpose and work on it.
Your purpose in life could be teaching, helping others, leaving the world a better place, feeling loved, creating works of art that people can enjoy or any other thing, but it has to be YOUR purpose in life and not borrowed from someone else. This picture below can help you find your own purpose through the Japanese concept of IKIGAI.
Create a Community
Ever since Dan Buettner, the author, explorer, and national Geographic journalist, discovered the concept of Blue Zones, the researchers had been studying to figure out the magic of Blue Zones. There are 5 places in the world, coined as Blue Zones, where people live the longest and healthiest. These 5 places are: the islands of Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda in California, and they are home to the world’s most centenarians.
More research showed that one of the secrets to this longevity and healthy lifestyle of the Blue Zones residents is investing in community life. A community is integral to your sense of belonging. “Loneliness can shave eight years off your life, community and purpose are paramount”, Buettner stresses.
I can attest to this because I have experienced this sense of belonging when I lived in Germany and my German neighbors made my stay so special. I have been living an expat life in many countries and never have I encountered this sense of belonging elsewhere, not even in my own home town. Thanks to an elderly couple, my child never missed her own grandparents and actually thought of them as her own ‘Oma and Opa’. I never felt this good in life before and had a hard time relocating and I am still nostalgic about this.
So find ways and time to invest in your family, friends, your loved ones, neighbors, clubs, or with people with whom you connect more. This way you will benefit from the healing power that comes with a sense of belonging.
Create a Ritual
We all have our daily routines and chores, but honestly, do we have daily or even weekly or monthly rituals? Rituals are something that we choose to do and not something that needs to be done. It’s something that’s done with a sense of purpose and brings joy in our mundane lives and is an important aspect of self-care.
A ritual can be something as simple as taking a long and relaxing shower with some candles around, or making a tamale – a communal cooking in Latin America, or celebrating the Ethiopian coffee ceremony Buna, or enjoying a Nordic bath, or just writing a gratitude journal every night. It’s important to make yourself a priority and when you take care of yourself by doing what you like, you are actually more available for others. So create a space and time for your ritual.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday lives – through mindfulness based meditation, through gratitude practice, or through body scans; while walking, cooking or eating, or while just doing your chores like washing the dishes or cleaning your house – just be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. It seems quite easy, but is not so easy to practice in real life. Being present in the moment needs a certain amount of training your mind and being conscious of what you are doing. Start small and make a conscious effort in whatever you do. If you are not sure where to start, the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is a good start.
Perform Acts of Kindness
Did you ever watch the Kindness Boomerang video where every random stranger performs an act of kindness to the other and it comes back to the person who started it? Watching that video actually made me so happy but I couldn’t resit tears (tears of joy) at the same time. I can only imagine if we could perform these random acts of kindness to each other, the world would be a much better place and our lives would be so full of meaning.
Research suggests that gratitude and happiness are strongly correlated. Research also suggests that kindness makes us happy and happiness makes us kind. The more grateful we feel, the more likely we would show kindness back to people and that would create a cycle of giving back to society. While the term meaningful can be different to different people, however, a recent article published in The Journal of Positive Psychology reports that more altruistic behavior brings a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
To express your gratitude or to just perform an act of kindness, you do not have to go beyond your means and do something extraordinary. It can be writing just a thank you note, or writing a good review about your colleague in LinkedIn, helping your elderly neighbor bring up the groceries, or praising a parent. If you are being more generous, you can think of bringing in treats for your co-workers or a basket of fruits for your neighbor. In this beautifully written article, Dana Velden writes about the power and virtue of a small, unexpected gift. In case you are having difficulty in deciding how to express your gratitude, here is a list of acts of kindness to brighten someone’s day.
I have only recently embarked on this journey and I hope this article helps you in bringing more meaning to your life. All I know is that it takes time and practice, so please do not lose hope if you do not see an immediate result. And while you are doing all these above mentioned things, please also do not forget to practice self-compassion. No matter what life throws at you, you will have the key to overcome adversities and make your life special and worth. When we are kind to ourselves and kind to others, great things can happen.