I’m in the midst of major shifts within my business. I find this is a periodic task for me to make sure what I am spending my time on is bringing the biggest rewards. And I don’t measure my rewards just financially, but more importantly, I measure them in terms of happiness and how meaningful I am finding the work. It’s no accident that this month’s Life Adventure Notes is exactly on that topic.
This month we discuss our last topic about living a happy life. It’s living a life of meaning. In the two previous months, we looked at happiness from pleasure and from the satisfaction of a job well done. This third way of creating happiness, living a life of meaning, is the deepest and richest for most people because it creates such long lasting happiness.
However, living your life in this way is no easy task. It may require you to be brave and to go outside of what others expect of you. It can require risks outside of the ordinary. It can require a course of action that consists of trial and error as you make your way forward. It definitely is not a life of mindless repetition, even though that “safe” life can be both simple and comforting. Living a life of meaning requires you to be intentional and thoughtful in your actions. The rewards for all these efforts can be great happiness.
So I present you a challenge this month – something to consider in order to make your life better. I hope you will join me in this challenge of increasing your happiness through some targeted work about what it all means for you.
Living a life of meaning is a sure way to lasting happiness. I believe there are three ways to create a meaningful life; by following your purpose, through spirituality and by making a contribution. Let’s dive into each of these for some ideas on how you might apply this information to raise your own happiness level.
Your purpose is that action in your life that really brings you alive when you perform it. In most instances, your purpose is most often expressed in your career. At times, you may have volunteer or recreational activities that express your purpose. Once you understand your purpose, you can focus your attention, time and efforts in that direction. One of my clients is a talented executive coach who also does significant work in preparing and presenting trainings. Over time, she came to realize that the part of her work that is the most meaningful to her is developing the training classes. She is extremely talented in developing training programs that are clear, concise and make an impact on each student. Recognizing her passion for curriculum development allowed her to focus her work choices more in that direction and increased the meaning that she finds in her work.
In order to really know your purpose, you need to be continuously monitoring yourself. Self awareness and contemplation are critical to the process so that you actually notice and understand your own reactions to different activities. You need to know your motives, interests and talents. What do you honestly do better than most people? You also need to know yourself well enough to understand how you measure success. What are the criteria that let you know you have succeeded? It’s a mistake to think you can just do some work once and find your purpose. Although there are some people who knew in childhood what they most wanted, for most people, it’s a process of experimentation over time that leads you down the path to a purpose.
You will also want to realize that your purpose can change over time. For example, I have known many women whose purpose was related to their career until they had a child and then the new purpose became stay-at-home parenting. My history gives examples of other changes in purpose – understand that as I was living through this, I had repeated instances of my “dream job”, and all were very different. Upon leaving college, I became an environmental scientist. After a decade of that work, I returned to graduate school and became a counselor. First I worked with teenagers in school settings, later with groups of women with substance abuse problems and most recently with couples in conflict. Finally, I added coaching and help people live lives and run businesses with more adventure. There were five or six purposes along the way!
The idea of increasing your happiness through your purpose requires you to find activities that make you feel like you can’t wait to be able to do them. Look for what makes your heart sing. You can’t help but impact your happiness if you do that.
Spirituality is an important route to meaning for some people. Living a life based on spiritual principles that you believe in can be extremely rewarding. The first example that always comes to mind for me is that of a priest or a nun who has given up a former life to follow God’s will. However, it doesn’t require that type of sacrifice to find meaning through spirituality.
Spiritual meaning requires that you begin with the belief that you are part of a bigger plan. That your life and your actions can be guided by prayer and contact with a Higher Power and that you will be better for that effort. There is an element of discipline present in this because it would usually be easier to either drift through life or to just do things your own way. Sticking to your moral principles and spiritual beliefs is often much more difficult in the complexities of modern life. Regardless of the effort involved, the reward is great in terms of meaning and happiness.
The feelings that give rise to meaning in this case are reverence and awe. Meaning comes from the understanding that you and your actions are an important part of the big picture – that the reverence and awe that you feel about your spiritual beliefs and your Higher Power also can apply directly to you as you live a life guided by those beliefs. Taking action to live your spirituality in an intentional way is the factor that creates this kind of happiness.
As just mentioned in discussing spirituality, there is nothing that leads to happiness in the same way as knowing that what you do and say make a difference. Each of us is pre-set to want a sense of accomplishment. When you carefully look at the impact of your accomplishments, no matter how seemingly insignificant, you add meaning to those actions. Your sense of meaning can come from the understanding that you make a difference in the world. Once I read a story that brought this into clarity for me.
There was a man who worked in a factory for many years, but hated his job making the same kinds of chairs over and over. He had to force himself to go to work in order to feed his family. He had a coworker who bothered him greatly because this other man seemed to love the work. Finally, the unhappy man asked his coworker why he seemed to enjoy their work so much. The happy man told him that he spent some time every day imagining who would be receiving one of the chairs he built. Although he had never met a customer, he pictured in detail the mother who would use his chair to comfort her child, the man who would sit in his chair every night to unwind from work and many others whose lives he could impact from his simple job.
Whatever your task, you can think through the impact on the world from your actions. Usually there is also a ripple effect from your actions that is wider than you can imagine. I believe that for most of us, the real key to meaning is that we can see how we benefit another person from our actions. It may only be one person or only a subtle effect, but when you feel inside that you have used your skills to benefit another person that can become the root of genuine happiness from your meaningful life.
What activities make you feel most alive and use your personal talents best?
How can you add more contemplation to your life so you can keep in touch with how well you are living your purpose?
What are your personal beliefs that add meaning to your life when you live them?
In what ways do your actions help others?
The Invitation ~ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive. It doesn’t interest me what planers are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful be realistic to remember the limitations of being human. It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bare the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy. I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence. I want to know if you can live with failure yours and mine and still stand in the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.” It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back. It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.