Have you ever noticed something about yourself? That is, you are most pleased with an inner sense of joy when you did something meaningful, even if it was difficult. Think about it. I am sure you can close your eyes now and reflect on two or three things that have brought the most meaning to your life.
What are they?
You know what they are. Now think about how you accomplished those things. I’ll bet it wasn’t easy.
If you are reading this right now, odds are things are tough for you. I know as I have been there. I found three things to help me; and who knows if this will apply to you.
First, I had to ‘hang in there’ and not let the negative thoughts rule me too much. I tried to be grateful and positive knowing that no matter how bad I had it, someone else has it worse. That helped.
Second, I prayed and realized Jesus went through the worst false accusation and death imaginable and so that helped too.
Last, I tried to ‘do something for somebody’ – ANYTHING. I found that by trying to help others, I actually found less pain and anxiety in my own life.
This last point created ‘meaning’ in my life. That was huge.
In order to have a meaningful life, one has to go through some form of sacrifice; which is darn tough when life is so crappy. This is the opposite of what we want to do when going through a crisis. As humans, we are wired to not seek pain but comfort. That is why author Michael Easter, in his book ‘The Comfort Crisis’, talks about how our modern ‘comfortable’ life is making us unhappy.
To paraphrase Michael Easter, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable if we are to achieve anything worthwhile.
There is a lot of talk in the world today to seek out happiness. But ‘happiness’ is typically something or some object from ‘the world’. For example, a car, or a vacation, or a new technology device. But those all fade away. That is why happiness fades away.
According to A. Pawlowski in her article: ‘Why you should quit chasing happiness and pursue meaning instead,’ “The happy life is associated with being a taker, whereas the meaningful life is associated with being a giver” as she quotes Emily Esfahani Smith’.
As a Christian, we see this in that the fulfillment of life comes in giving to others, as well as forgiving, which is a different form of giving. No one is ever finally satisfied with taking, which is why greedy people become greedier. In the Dopamine Nation by Stanford addiction physician, Ann Lembke, MD. She describes the ‘addictive’ behavior of immediate pleasures, and how the mind goes into a ‘withdrawal’ from the dopamine loss when the surge is gone, and thus the need to seek it again. This occurs in social media scrolling, video games, and the association of greed and ‘buying things’ for self-gratification. They don’t last, and you need the dopamine hit once again.
This is why social media use directly correlates to increased anxiety and depression.
This is directly related to seeking happiness for happiness’s sake as opposed to seeking meaning. There is a great book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ by Viktor Frankl, written in 1946. Viktor was in a Nazi concentration camp and survived. According to a Wikipedia description, ‘Frankl concludes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.’
Happiness, to contrast, is the pursuit of something not yet attained. Meaning requires us to put our personal desires on hold and pursue something greater. However, when going through tough times, it is sometimes nearly impossible to do that. I try and do ‘little things’ to begin this process. Things like, when I see a piece of trash on the ground, I pick it up and throw it away. Or if I am driving, then I will let a driver into my lane or give space to make a turn – and then smile at them. So I can do things to help others without any interaction and that is good and fulfilling.
In the end, we want to know that our lives meant something. And they do! The 102-year-old physician, Dr. Gladys McGarey, in her book, ‘The Well-Lived Life’ says, “I truly believe each one of us has a purpose here. It’s our privilege and our responsibility to find that with ourselves. Each one of us is special, able to love and be loved.”
According to Dr. McGarey, love is the central theme of one’s whole life. And love is the most powerful medicine. And what is love? It is the giving on oneself to another. Even if it is something as simple as picking up a piece of trash.
Seek love. Seek giving. Seek meaning, and happiness is the natural child that will be born – and just start with something small like picking up a piece of trash. No one knows when I do it, but I feel good about that small victory for the world, for God, for everyone.
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