Discovering Meaning in 2021:
4 Pathways to Seek Happiness, Freedom, and Purpose Amid a Pandemic and Political Challenge
As we move into 2021, we emerge from a year unlike others in modern history. COVID-19 and the politics of our time have profoundly impacted our lives. As we struggle with the day-to-day, we may find ourselves confronting situations we’ve never imagined. We face many circumstances beyond our control in daily life, our families, communities, and the United States. Some of us are thinking about how we can contribute to a more compassionate world, seeking greater common ground that includes all of us.
During these turbulent times, many of us are becoming more aware of the importance of meaning in our lives. We care more than ever about understanding what really matters to us. We want to experience at least fleeting moments of happiness, freedom, and perhaps even adventure.
How do we guide ourselves to construct greater meaning in the darkness of this winter of the pandemic?
We might think that our own individual losses and searches for meaning are small compared to the huge adversities and losses caused by COVID-19 and the political challenges in the U.S. But I’d like to suggest that this is not the case – each of us is part of the whole and each of us matters. Each of us is part of the interconnected wholeness of our world. Nothing on this earth is separate from anything else.
A recent study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that people have shifted their priorities, paying more attention to finding meaning through social responsibility, personal autonomy, and living a simpler life (Chen & colleagues, 2020).
I invite you to consider that life has meaning in all circumstances, if you choose to look there.
The search for meaning and purpose throughout our lives has been cited by many researchers and writers as an ultimate aim in life. Uncovering meaning enlightens our understanding, and like a compelling storyline in a good book, offers a sense of clarity as we live our days (Baumeister, 1991; Chen, et al, 2020).
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl is renowned for his writings on the search for meaning in life. According to Frankl, humans are motivated with an inner calling to seek meaning, a motivation essential to our existence. He cites three ways to discover meaning (Logotherapy, 2021): (1) Involvement in work or action; (2) Through experiences, such as relationships, creativity, self-expression; (3) Making choices to change our attitude when faced with situations or circumstances we cannot change.
We are each unique individuals yet also part of our interconnected world. There is not one call to meaning for all us. The search for meaning is not “one size fits all.” So how do we discover pathways toward what matters in our lives during this time of suffering for so many? There are many responses to this question. Here are a few ideas.
Four Pathways to Help You Discover Greater Meaning – And Perhaps Happiness, Freedom, and Adventure – in Your Life Today
1 –Try the Meaning in Life Questionnaire: If you’re interested in thinking about what feels important to you, take a look at the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ). This 10-item self-survey was designed by Michael Steger, PhD, and his colleagues at the Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life. Remember there are no right or wrong answers (Steger and colleagues, 2006).
2 – Identify your Top Character Strengths: All 24 character strengths identified and extensively studied by positive psychologists have been linked as pathways to a meaningful life (Littman-Ovadia & Niemiec, 2016; Niemiec, 2018). These character strengths are: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective, bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. To identify your top character strengths, you can take the free VIA Survey. This quick (less than 15 minutes), self-assessment It’s highly evidence-based and has been taken by over 7 million people throughout the world.
3 – Look Toward Your Future with Greater Meaning: After you take the VIA, consider trying an application called “What Matters Most” (Littman & Ovadia, 2017; Niemiec, 2018; Meevisen Peters, & Alberts, 2011). Let your mind imagine one aspect of your life that matters most to you six months to one year in the future. Visualize something significant and meaningful to you, something that you’d like to improve or strengthen. Set an intention to change it and create a sentence or statement that captures this. Consider your five strongest (top) character strengths and list one way you could use each strength to empower yourself to take action, thus enriching your experience of meaning – what matters most.
4 – Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness has been connected with greater meaning in life (Littman-Ovadia & Niemiec, 2016; Niemiec, 2018). There are many pathways toward greater mindfulness.
Here are a few links to learn more about mindfulness:
- Berns-Zare, I. (2020). (IBZ Coaching). How to focus on what really matters: Using mindfulness moments to build resilience during COVID-19.
- Berns-Zare, I. (2019). (IBZ Coaching). Train yourself to react with greater ease and calm: How do we get mindful and how can we strengthen the mindfulness muscle?
- Ivtzan, I. (2015). Awareness is Freedom: Guided Meditations.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome!
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- Baumeister, R.F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- Berns-Zare, I. (2020). How to focus on what really matters.
- Berns-Zare, I. (2019). Train yourself to react with greater ease and calm. How do we get mindful and how can we strengthen the mindfulness muscle?
- Chen, C., Zhang, Y., Xu, A. & Lin, J. (2020). Reconstruction of meaning in life: Meaning made during the pandemic of COVID-19. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 22(3), 173-184.
- Ivtzan, I. Awareness is Freedom Meditations.
- Meevissen, Y. M., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 42(3), 371-378.
- Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. Logotherapy. Retrieved 12/24/2020
- Littman-Ovadia, H., & Niemiec, R. M. (2016). Character strengths and mindfulness as core pathways to meaning in life. In Clinical perspectives on meaning (pp. 383-405). Springer, Cham.
- Niemiec, R. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.
- Steger, M.F. Frazier, P, Oishi, S. Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80-93. ;
- The VIA classification of character strengths and virtues.
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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC (ICF Credentialed) is an Executive and Personal Coach and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best personal and professional lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with strengths, purpose, and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at https://ibzcoaching.com/.
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