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Your Life Matters, Learn to Feel It

A Personal Perspective: A secret to creating a meaningful life.

Key points

  • To find your life’s purpose, it is essential that you commit yourself to taking action.
  • Reflecting on your experiences will offer guidance in finding meaning in your life.
  • For a sense of purpose in life, build on what gives you small moments of meaning.
Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan /Public Domain Pictures
Source: Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan /Public Domain Pictures

In a world seemingly gone wild, you may repeatedly get caught up in a wave of panic about what will happen next only to crash into a sense of ennui or feel listless and hopeless. Rather than being a victim of circumstance, you can create more stability in your life by finding meaning and purpose. To do this, you simply need to commit yourself to take action.

You may think: How do I find that sense of purpose? And what kind of action do I need to take? The answer to this is within you if you listen carefully enough to yourself.

Pay attention to your current life, and look for aspects of it that fulfill you. To help, make note of small respites from your unhappiness or malaise. Consider what you value about them. Maybe it is simply the pleasure that they offer, like the relaxing spray of a hot shower. If so, choose to savor those moments. Though it’s not the same as meaning, pleasure is an important part of life. Or, maybe those moments of respite are moments of meaning, like when you connect with your parent as you help them run an errand. If so, you could nurture more meaning in your life by spending more time doing those things. Of course, some experiences might represent both pleasure and meaning. When that happens, you have hit the jackpot; doing more of them can greatly enrich your life. But what if none of that happens or if you don’t find meaning anyplace you look?

To help you figure out how to proceed, think about buying a house. It’s a big decision, though noticeably smaller than deciding your life’s purpose. When you buy a house, you don’t wait for one to drop down from the sky (which did not go well for the Wicked Witch of the East). And you don’t make an offer on the first one you see with a “For Sale” sign. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even bother to look for one until you made some basic decisions. Do you want to live in an urban, suburban, or rural area? How many bedrooms do you want? Will it be important to live in a kid-friendly neighborhood, or one that’s filled with single adults? The list goes on.

Similarly, in your search for a meaningful life, it helps to know what you want, and what’s important to you.

Even if you don’t know how to get there, what do you want your life to look like?

  • Example: Though you’ve never left your home state, you might want your life to include helping people in third-world countries.

What do you value? How can you live that value in your life?

  • Example: You may value kindness in action, and you might take every opportunity to help family, friends, and neighbors when they are in need (deliver meals to a new mom, take a friend to the doctor)

Do you have a passion? How can you pursue it in a way that brings more meaning to your life?

  • Example: You love reading, so you offer to record audiobooks for the blind.

Do you tend to lose yourself in personal connections, manual work, or intellectual pursuits? Can you do what fits best for you in a way that could also bring purpose to your life?

  • Example: You enjoy manual labor, so you volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

Again, the list is long. At the heart of this self-reflection is a quest to find how you can build a meaningful life. If you are stumped, contemplate it as you go for strolls through the woods, or curl up with a journal. Observe the lives of others, looking past “the-grass-is-greener-on-the-other side” thoughts to what you see in their circumstances that might make you truly happy.

You don’t need to find a for-sure answer, just some possibilities that you can try out. But this is not easy. Rather than being a decision you need to make, finding meaning is more about having patience and self-compassion as you learn to be open to yourself. (To learn more, watch this brief video, How to Nurture a Meaningful Life.) By listening to your experience and being daring enough to take action, you can create a meaningful life for yourself. And when you do this, you will know in your heart that your life matters.

More from Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D.
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