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What Really Matters? (How could we create even more meaning in our lives?)

By Karen Vally on 12 Apr 2020

" Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day." 

Wherever we are in the world, being confined to our homes during the Covid-19 pandemic has provided us with a golden opportunity to reflect on the gift of life. Perhaps we've pressed the pause button or used this time to change our habits. Others may feel comfortable just continuing their particular way of life.

 Part of being human is having a free will which enables us, in any given situation, to make a choice about how we respond, knowing that,with each choice comes a particular consequence. If we do nothing else during this time of isolation, we could start asking ourselves some questions.

I have spent the last few weeks reading extensively on how to create a more meaningful life and about what really matters, not only because I have been reflecting on my own mortality, but because I am intrigued by human behaviour.

An Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, in her book called, " The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, " lists these regrets as : 

" I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself."
" I wish I hadn't worked so hard."
" I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
" I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends."
" I wish I'd let myself be happier."

The psychiatrist, William Breitbart, designed an eight session group therapy programme which transformed the mindsets of a group of terminally ill cancer patients who wanted to apply for an assisted death. He knew how to treat depression but he realised that he did not know how to treat patients suffering from a sense of hopelessness. As a result of his programme, their attitudes were transformed and they suddenly discovered a renewed sense of meaning in their lives. In fact, two months later, not only had their sense of meaning increased, but they no longer wanted to die prematurely.

" To live a meaningful life, you must find something you believe in wholeheartedly."

" For life to be valuable, or meaningful, it needn't be unique."

" What makes a human life have meaning or significance, is not the mere living of a life, but the reflecting on the living of a life."

" A meaningful life is about doing what matters most."

" At the core of a meaningful life, is building positive, supportive relationships."

" Despite our culture's obsession with the pursuit of personal happiness, understanding your meaning in life is the secret to your resilience and success. Many psychologists define happiness as a state of confort and ease, feeling good in the moment. Meaning, though, is deeper," says Emily Esfahani Smith. She quotes Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, who says that, " meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best within you."

Smith recommends that we identify our strengths and then look for ways in which to use them so that others feel the benefit.  She goes on to explain that finding your purpose is not the same thing as finding that job that makes you happy.  Purpose, she says, is less about what you want, than about what you can give.

 If you are working in a particular job merely to enable you to meet your financial commitments, it is difficult to find meaning. What if you were to ask yourself, " How can I think of my role in a way that would make me feel as if what I'm doing  has meaning?"

Meaning comes about when you are engaged in an activity that inspires you and in which you make a contribution towards something bigger than yourself. We perform much better in those jobs where we appreciate and understand their importance.

It takes courage for most of us to get through each day and requires even more courage to live a meaningful life. " Happiness comes and goes," Smith says, "but when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold onto."

" Quarantine is not an excuse to abandon all responsibility but rather an opportunity to dedicate yourself to something." Stay motivated, stay active by being engaged and productive. Create structure out of the unstructured time you have been given. Create a unique memory out of a very unique period in the history of humankind.

" Changed people change the world. They light the fire in others because they themselves are on fire."

" People who lead meaningful lives put themselves out there, they try new things, challenge the way they think and doggedly seek out that which they want from life."

What REALLY matters to you? In what way could you make your life even more meaningful, not only after the lock down has ended, but right now?


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