If you’ve struggled with existential issues, then you understand the sense of futility that can come with them.
Struggling to find meaning of life is a real struggle for those so inclined. Most people attempt to tackle one big question.
What is the meaning of life?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Philosophical counselors, mental health therapists and professional coaches of all kinds know well the existential impact of meaning vs. meaninglessness. One of the greatest sources of stability for all of us is to feel grounded in a life full of meaning.
What makes it so hard to come up with a pragmatic, satisfying answer?
One simple yet concrete part of the problem is the wording of the question itself. For example, it assumes that there is one sole meaning to be had. Secondly, it assumes that life has a meaning apart from the meaning you give it.
Most people understand that meaning is malleable. It can change depending on point of view and circumstance. People, things and events can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. Meaning is dependent upon perceptual filters. Perceptual filters are highly subjective and individualistic.
How are we, then, to find the “one single meaning” of life?
That said, many have answered this question of life’s meaning in spite of it’s vague nature. Yet, if you are still struggling with it, consider that there may be better questions to ask.
Here are 5 questions that serve as alternatives:
1. What is it that makes my life worth living?
This is a very fresh rephrase, isn’t it? Asking what makes your life worth living puts you in the driver’s seat. If you ask this question sincerely, ideas should come immediately to mind. My family, my work, my time spent learning, etc…are all viable options.
If “nothing” comes to mind, you can still work with this one. You simply substitute a couple of words. For example, “What is it that would make my life worth living?” Or even, “If my life were really worthwhile, what would I be doing differently?”
These questions are pragmatic and empowering.
2. What do I believe is most important in life?
Along the same lines as the first, this question hints at life values. Values are simple indicators of importance. Life values are words that describe what’s important to you in life. For example: Faith, family, freedom, security, interdependence, accomplishment, productivity, and so on.
Identifying your life values gives you a clarity and focus like few other activities. Knowing your values clarifies decisions, sorts out relationships and even defines career moves. That said, relatively few people take the time to clarify their values. Why not clarify yours?
3. How can I find more satisfaction in life?
Higher levels of life satisfaction make the big, scary existential question less intimidating. If you’re very fulfilled, it may bother you less that you haven’t pinpointed the “meaning of it all.” It’s not that the meaning of life is less important. However, not knowing your own answer will throw you off balance less if you are highly satisfied in life.
How can you become more satisfied? What do you need to do or stop doing to create greater fulfillment? What do you need from people around you? Pursuing inner satisfaction can be much more productive than chasing the meaning of life.
4. What meaning am I giving life in this moment?
Hop back into the driver’s seat. Ask yourself, moment to moment, “What meaning am I giving life right now?” Putting it this way honors the fact that life means what you make it mean. There isn’t a specific meaning lying next to some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Your life takes on meaning precisely according to the meaning you give it. If you become conscious of the meaning you project onto life, especially when you need to reverse negative situations, then you may develop greater choice over the meaning of your life.
5. Which life experiences have meant the most to me so far?
With this question, we are getting specific. We’ve all had profound learning experiences. Other people have moved us. We’ve made mistakes and recovered. We’ve accomplished things we’re proud of.
If you could narrow down your list of meaningful experiences to just five, which five would be on the list? Try it. Then, discover what those five experiences have in common. Did you learn something profound? Accomplish something worthwhile?
You’ll learn a lot about yourself by taking the time to address these questions. In fact, your answers could clarify your purpose and point you in a new direction, if you’re open to that.
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