This article is by The Fix
What makes life meaningful?
Knowing the answer can make a big difference in your personal fulfillment. At Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia, program director Geoff Thompson and his team regularly help clients discover and develop a meaningful life.
Despite that, Thompson doesn’t have any easy explanation for what makes life meaningful.
“A meaningful life is a personally meaningful life,” he says. “Regardless of wealth, education, fame, power, etc., if a person does not feel their life is meaningful, then it isn’t.”
It can be easy to overthink whether or not your life has meaning. But if you find yourself questioning whether you have a meaningful life or not, chances are you have some work to do.
“It’s interesting that those who are contented in life don’t really think about living a meaningful life,” Thompson says. “In fact, if questions of meaning come to the fore, it’s a guarantee that the wheels have come off.”
No one but you can decide what makes your life meaningful. However, there are some things to consider as you think about creating a more meaningful life.
1. Recognize that Happiness Isn’t Enough
It’s common to think that a meaningful life is one full of happiness. However, that’s not always the case, says Thompson. We’ve all heard of people who have everything they thought they wanted — the perfect job, home, spouse, etc. — but who were not content. On the other hand, we’ve heard stories of people who have given it all up to pursue a passion, and found meaning and richness of life along the way. So, it’s safe to say there’s more to a meaningful life than just happiness.
2. Embrace Life, with Good and Bad
Happiness isn’t the key ingredient to meaning, and to find a meaningful life you also need to accept that life comes with good times and bad, Thompson says.
“The problem with the ‘happiness’ approach is that those who pursue happiness are doomed,” he says. “Suffering is a natural part of life, so they will always fail.”
Some people find meaning through their suffering — including people who have navigated the difficulties or drug or alcohol addiction. It can be worth exploring what your suffering has contributed to your life — the lessons it has taught or the people it has brought in — and reflecting on how those things have increased meaningfulness.
3. Accept Reality
For many people, life is harsh. This can be particularly true coming out of the chaos of addiction and the traumas that might have contributed to your drug or alcohol misuse. But in order to find meaning, you must accept life, just as it is, Thompson says.
“A person who desires a meaningful life must first accept reality, no matter how bleak,” he says.
This means no excuses — you can’t say your childhood trauma caused your addiction, or that you only have a record because the criminal justice system was out to get you. Instead, you need to accept reality and make sense of the world around you.
4. Know Yourself
A meaningful life is incredibly personal. To know what is meaningful to you, you must have a sound sense of self. That means defining the values, principles and beliefs that will guide you throughout life.
“Those who live meaningfully understand what is important to them: their values, their beliefs, strengths, limitations, desires and wants,” Thompson says.
Once you understand these things, you can create goals based on these criteria.
5. Build Relationships
Almost everyone finds meaning in quality, authentic connections with others. Fostering healthy relationships — and getting rid of those that are no longer healthy — can contribute to the meaning in your life.
“Those who live meaningful lives develop positive, authentic connections with others,” Thompson says.
The people who have the most fulfillment in life find meaning from various sources, Thompson says.
“A contented person needs several sources of meaning to live a meaningful life: work, family, community, etc,” he says.
If you just have one or two of those, you might find your sense of a meaningful life lacking.
“Many clients find meaning only in one area of their life,” Thompson says. “In this case—all eggs in one or two baskets—we would say the person is not living a personally meaningful life.”
Finding fulfillment from different areas can ensure that you maintain a rich and meaningful existence.