Good morning fellow NorthLakers! Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend. What, though, makes a weekend “great?” Usually when we say our weekend was “great” it’s either because it was restful, it was fun, or something happened that was meaningful to us. I’d like to focus today on that “meaningful” part (which, by the way, may very well include activities that are restful or fun).
We tend, in our culture, and probably a lot of other cultures too, to get focused on the “pursuit of happiness.” Which is all fine, except that as it turns out when we chase happiness we often find that it seems to escape our grasp. Or it comes and then goes, all too quickly. And of course when things go wrong…
On the other hand, when we pursue a meaningful life, whatever that may mean to each of us, we find that happiness tends to show up as a side effect of the pursuit of meaning. This may be due to the fact that while we are not always having fun (have you noticed…?) we CAN always, in all circumstances, take actions that fit our values and fill our lives with meaning. This is why people, (apparently, I haven’t tried it) find raising children to be so fulfilling. Even from a distance I can tell that raising kids is NOT always fun. That it’s actually really, really difficult. But apparently, in the midst of all the diapers and runny noses and sleepless nights and bills, and sullen teenagers refusing to talk to you, something good happens.
Especially during times that are hard, it can really pay to take a few minutes to get super clear about what you want your life to stand for; who you want to be. That way, when you ask yourself “why am I doing ______ [fill in the blank with all the hard things we do day in and day out]?” you can actually give yourself a solid, satisfying reason. For example, if quitting smoking, “why am I doing this?” might be answered by an image of your kids, or your lungs, or you at the end of a successful hike, or whatever YOUR reasons for taking on that challenge might be. When you’re talking to your third or twenty third stressed client on the phone it might be something related to why work matters to you, or the kind of person you want to be, or something else that just really matters to you.
If you’d like to dive in a little, there are a ton of lists of values online that you can use to do a “values sort.” You just one way or the other sort through a list until you come up with three to five words that represent what matters the most to you. Then you keep that little list around, looking for ways to live into those values. Be very careful, if you do this, not to get sucked in by “should!” Don’t pick values because you can see your mom nodding approvingly at your nice choices! Pick the ones that light a fire in your belly, for real. Those are the ones that hold up in the harder, darker moments we all encounter. And those are the ones, when we pursue them, which leave us happy in the ways that actually matter to us.
If you’re interested, here’s one link to one way to come up with that list:
Dr. Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer