It is easy to find meaning and purpose in your life when your circumstances are going well. However, if your level of meaning and purpose is based solely on external circumstances and measures of success, then any meaning or purpose you create becomes very fragile and based on something outside of your control. For example, some people create meaning and purpose in their life based solely on their career or their relationships. There is nothing wrong with finding meaning and purpose in life in your career or relationships, but when those become the only source of meaning and purpose in your life, then any meaning or purpose you create is based on something outside of your control such as whether your boss, clients, co-workers, or romantic partner is happy with you. When your boss, clients, or romantic partner is happy with you, then you have meaning and purpose, but if you get fired or business goes slow or you hit a rough patch in a relationship, then any happiness or fulfillment you create in life becomes fragile and contingent on others.
The alternative is to create a more integrated and comprehensive sense of purpose in life that is based on something you have more control over, which is living your values or focusing on who you are being. As far as values goes, I am simply referring to some trait or characteristic that is important for to you. For some people that may be adventure, sense of humor, fun, kindness, growth, integrity, or spirituality. What matters is that these values are important to you and give you meaning and purpose in life. One way to identify your values is to simply complete the following phrase:
“Who I am is the possibility of being (write whatever value is important to you)”
Then, you can take actions that are consistent with those values. This is really powerful because regardless of your circumstances, you can wake up every day and choose what value is important to you and then take actions that are consistent with those values. You may not have the power every day to choose your relationship status or financial wealth. But, you can choose who you are being and what values you want to act on.
Also, living our values gives us meaning and direction in life because we can never completely accomplish or complete a value, unlike an external goal which can be accomplished. For example, if honesty is a value of yours, then you can never say to yourself, “well, I have been honest now for 30 days, so I am done being honest.” Rather values are something we strive for continuously and give us direction in life. Similarly, if we do not live up to our values on a particular day, then we can wake up the next day and try to live our values to your best that day. That is why values help give us direction and purpose regardless of our circumstances.
One exercise is especially helpful when circumstances, relationships, or work is not going well. For me, this helped during a time when I was unemployed and trying to figure out what sort of career I wanted in life. I knew I was not happy as a lawyer, but there was a time when I did not know what sort of career I wanted. So, I woke up each day as literally said”
“Who I am is the possibility of being…..” and said whatever values came to mind. For me, the two values that came up over and over for me were inspiration and authenticity. So, I looked for ways to be inspiration and be authenticity regardless of my circumstances. Fortunately, over time, I eventually took enough actions based on these values that I have been able to create a career that is consistent with these values as a psychologist. One of the greatest joys I have as a psychologist is inspiring people to be there most authentic self.
What are your values? Take some time to consider that and write them down each day. Then, on a daily basis, try to take one action that is consistent with that value and you will be able to create meaning and purpose in your life regardless of your circumstances. If you are having difficulty identifying your values, then a therapist may be able to help you. For help finding a therapist please click here.