Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Living with a chronic condition often causes us to ask a lot of questions that we haven’t really thought about before. The most obvious one is: “Why me?” Others might include “What’s really important in my life?” And, “How do I find a greater sense of purpose beyond what I am experiencing day to day?”
These questions might be referred to as questions of meaning.
8 ideas for finding more meaning in your life
1. Go into yourself. Use meditation, contemplation, or prayer. Take some time each day to nurture your spirit. You may do this through meditation, sitting in a quiet place, or simply counting your breaths. Or you can go off by yourself and contemplate the events of the day. Communicating with your "higher power" through prayer, expressing appreciation, and seeking guidance are other options. Listen to that “still, small voice” inside of you.
2. Connect. Spend time with people you care about, who can listen, share the hard times, and celebrate the good times. When we spend time with others, we are reminded of the bigger picture of life and that other people are also living with challenges. You are not alone.
3. Give. Reach out to someone who can use some support. Be a listening ear and share some words of encouragement. Volunteer and share your skills and talents. When you give of yourself, you are a blessing to the other person. You will feel the boomerang effect as the blessing comes back to you.
4. Get inspired. Spend time with an inspirational book. Choose an author who speaks to you in some way. Keep planting those seeds of positive intention by reading a little bit every day, even if only a few paragraphs. Inspirational authors often make available video clips that you can watch online. Exposing yourself to inspirational thought can be a great way to begin, or end, your day.
5. Enjoy. Stay involved with activities that you can participate in and that give you joy. Add some new activities as well. Find hobbies to enjoy on your own or do them with people you care about. Get outdoors when you can and commune with nature. Have a good laugh.
6. Be mindful. Someone once said to me, “On the day I received my diagnosis, I listened to my favorite music and I felt like I was hearing it as I had never heard it before.” Practice being in the present moment and not caught up in rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Be aware of the pleasures and the possibilities that exist all around you. Watch. Listen. Right now.
7. Say thank you. Take a moment at the beginning of each day to identify something you are grateful for, as simple as your morning coffee, a sunshiny day, or the sound of your children playing in the backyard. Have an attitude of gratitude.
8. Give up! The need to always be in charge, that is. One of the greatest lessons of chronic conditions is that we are not in control of every single aspect of our lives. As it says in the Serenity Prayer, “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” Use the changes that come your way as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and grow.
Life is a journey. It has ups and downs, twists and turns. Each day gives us a new opportunity to have a more meaningful life. It is up to us to find meaning and to create meaning. So seize the day!