Creating a meaningful life

Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.
— Victor Frankl

Prescribing a pill, is easier than addressing the cause of the pain.

While a headache can be dulled with a tablet, it’s rarely the lack of a tablet that caused the problem. Maybe you’re dehydrated or stressed or maybe the noise level in the room you’re in is too loud. Though that sounds like common sense, for many of us when we’re feeling low, we run to a tablet. Tablets promise that we’ll not need to look at any areas of discontentment in our lives. We can just dull the pain and keep on moving.

So what do we do when we’re feeling low?

Before we assume it’s a tablet we require, we need to address the source of our pain. Maybe we’re grieving, or we feel lonely or we’ve just been through a relationship breakdown or the loss of a job. I’m not saying tablets don’t have their place, I’m just saying that should be our first point of call. Whist it’s sometimes a chemical imbalance in our brains which maybe causing the distress in our life at this time, it’s far more rare than we’ve been led to believe. If we were to start addressing the real cause of why we’re not ‘feeling ourselves’, pharmaceutical companies would lose a lot of money with their ‘quick fix cures’.

I wanted to offer a few suggestions about some practical ways to improve our health, by addressing some often overlooked areas of our lives. It’s a little more work than trusting a tablet to cure it all.

  • Create meaningful work Your day job might not lead you to feel a great deal of meaning in your life, but you don’t need to let that stop you from spending time on something that adds value to the life of others around you. Maybe you have a passion for art or writing or sports or photography and you haven’t taken any steps towards investing in those areas because you can’t earn any money through it. Rather than waiting until that work that brings you to life is earning you money, you should start taking small steps towards making it a part of your day. Creating meaningful work helps us add value to our community which in turn gives us a sense of purpose in our community. You could also start looking towards changing roles or jobs and doing something more in line with what lights you up. Don’t let familiarity and security of your ‘normal’ stop you from making a change.

  • Connect with other people It wasn’t too long ago that without community, we’d be dead. One of the reasons that humans were so successful in taking down big animals when we were still living in the wild, was because we learnt to work together. Being alone often meant being vulnerable so it seems that we’re almost wired to connect with other people. But in the hustle and bustle of ‘progression’ in our culture, we often forget about the value that comes with being connected with other people. Community is an essential part of human flourishing. It doesn’t have to be your neighbourhood. Maybe you can find it in your sports club, your work colleagues or your church. Community helps us expand our horizons from looking our just for ourselves, to looking at for those around us. It is valuable to not only us, but to those around us.

  • Monitor your thoughts If we ignore our physical health, we very quickly lose shape. If we ignore our thought life, naturally weeds will grow. Don’t trust every thought that you have. Instead, learn the benefits of cognitive behaviour therapy and the power that comes with challenging faulty thinking and replacing those thoughts with positive alternatives. At first it may not feel like you’re making progress, but over time, your program will start to alter your thinking habits which will lead to more powerful thoughts.

  • Look at where you’re discontent When an athlete is continually getting injured, it’s not just because they’re ‘genetically predisposed’ to injury. Whilst that may be one issue, it’s rarely the main problem. If they’re injured, it’s recommended that they take some time to look at their training load, the technique and whether they’re neglecting recovery. If you’re unhappy, it’s not just because your ‘brain is broken’. The discontent might just be saying that you need more people in your life, more connection, more purpose, better health. Maybe you need to lose some weight or quick drinking or join a social sports group. Don’t just assume you’re broken. It’s just an oil light reminding you that something has been neglected and needs to be topped up.

Whilst this list is not exhaustive, it’s certainly a great step in the right direction. If you’re after a more in depth look at how to improve the quality of our lives, I highly recommend you read ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari.