Back in December I wrote a post about the meaning of life. I talked about how the meaning of life is different for each of us. I also discussed how in order for our lives to have meaning we must have purpose in our lives, and find what makes us happy. I also said that we can only find meaning in our lives by living. A few weeks ago someone asked me, exactly how they should go about finding meaning in their lives. As I always do, I started to think. I then proceeded to think some more. I then took some aspirin for my headache, and then thought a little more. The other day I came across this saying that you see above. "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away". It fits in perfectly with what I'd like to talk about today. Let's think about how to go about finding meaning in our lives. It's often hard to find the time. It seems are lives are always so busy. Most of us spend so much time working and trying to pay the bills. Many of us also have families and friends who need our time. I really don't think there's enough time in the day to do everything that needs doing. Another thing to think about is that we live in a big, crowded, scary, and dangerous world. Sometimes it's easier to hunker down in our own safe and comfortable little worlds. I personally spent years in what I call "survival mode". I was working and raising a family, and the last thing I thought about was finding meaning in my life. I've put together a five-step list to help all of us find meaning in our lives. I hope you find something to take with you.
1. Understand Your place in the World
On the surface this may seem relatively easy, but it's not. We are all unique individuals with are own special needs, goals, and most importantly; personalities. What makes mankind so wonderful is that we are so different, yet we are so alike. We are like the pieces of a gigantic puzzle. The puzzle is made up of the same material, but the pieces are of different sizes and varying shapes. Some are along the borders while others are in the center or in other positions. Some of the pieces may have one color while others may have multiple colors or even words. The important thing is that each piece is not only unique, but is equally important to the completion of the puzzle. Each piece has its place in the puzzle. Even the smallest and seemingly unimportant pieces are a key to finishing the puzzle. All of us have put together puzzles in our lives. We've worked for hours meticulously fitting pieces together and watching as the puzzle slowly, but surely starts becoming something. How many times have you put together a puzzle and found that pieces were missing? You'll search and search, because you realize just how important that one final piece is. In order to find meaning in our lives we need to understand our place in the greatest puzzle of all; life. Some of us may be big pieces and other small, but each is equally important. I think I understand my place. I'll never be someone like Bill Gates or his Wife Melinda, who spend billions of dollars to make the world better. I definitely know I'll never be a Saint like Mother Teresa, who made such a difference in the world, but that's okay. I am who I am. I'm small, but important. You'd be surprised the effect, small and seemingly insignificant people can have in this world.
2. Learn to Love Yourself
Most of us have heard the saying that; "You need to love yourself before you can love others". I've found from personal experience that it's sometimes easier to love others than to love yourself. Learning to love yourself is an important step to finding meaning in your life. If you've read my blog you know that I've been a loner most of my life. I've always found it hard to reach out to others. I think the reason for that was that I not only didn't love myself, but I didn't really like myself. Maybe it was low self esteem; I'm not really sure. I do know this. I wasted a lot of years. I spent so much time wallowing in self pity, drinking too much, turning my back on my family, and hating what I had become. I've had a long hard journey. If you read my post on "You Are Not Alone" you may realize that I was once in that place. I can tell you now that it's not a nice place to be. You may ask; "How do I go about loving myself?" The first step is to reach out to others. It may be the most difficult thing you've ever done. It's very scary. I was always afraid of rejection. I can remember how in grade school there would be dances. All the boys would be on one side and all the girls would be on the other side. The worst possible feeling was to ask a girl to dance and have her say no. It got to the point where I stopped asking. I often like to talk about small steps. In order to love ourselves you need to sometimes take small steps. One of the best, first small steps is to volunteer. It could be anywhere. It could be a soup kitchen, Meals on wheels, a homeless shelter or even the Salvation Army. If you do this with an open heart you'll begin to have people love,"you". They'll begin to see wonderful things you possess inside that you didn't even know you had. After a while you'll start to realize that maybe, just maybe you have qualities worth loving. This is the first step to loving yourself. The strange thing is that after all this time I'm not sure if I really love myself. I do know that I like myself. I do think I'm a good person with a lot to offer. I just need to keep taking small steps.
3. Really Live
If you remember my story about the meaning of life you'll recall that I said that you can't find the meaning of life in books, long journeys or even in a cave. You also won't find the meaning of life alone in a small room with only yourself and your own thoughts. When I talk about living I don't necessarily mean traveling the world on vacations and seeing all there is to see. To live is to open yourself up to others. It's about reaching your potential, and growing as a person. Is is the ability to take a step past your sometimes mundane life, and become more. To really learn to live you have to change your attitudes. You need to start seeing the world and all it's peoples in a whole new light. You have to be the kind of person who sees the glass half full rather than half empty. You need to see the good in people rather than expecting the bad. You have to learn to see things that you didn't notice before. There is so much beauty, joy and wonder in the world that passes us by every single day. Changing your attitudes and really living isn't easy. I'm the first to admit that it's a tough, cruel world out there. Sometimes it's easier and a lot safer to stand behind the window glass, and watch it all go by. We face so many barriers and obstacles. It's probably one of the hardest things to do. Like everything else, you have to start with small tentative steps. Begin to smile more. Look people in the eyes and say good morning. Use your senses to smell and hear, see and touch things around you. I don't think I've really begun to live yet, but I'm getting there. Do you know that years ago before my son was born that one of my first tentative steps in my quest to really live was to hold a baby? It sounds easy, but for a loner like me it wasn't that easy. I held him in my hands, and he seemed so small and fragile in my big rough hands. I was almost afraid that I would break him. I think on that day I learned to live just a little more.
4. Find Your Gifts
Many people in the world have different abilities, skills and talents. Some of them are obvious like the physical abilities of the athletes we see on television. We've also all heard wonderful music and seen magnificent works of art. These are rare and precious talents. It seems that there are so many people in the world with special gifts. How about all the people with incredible knowledge and intelligence who we see winning Nobel prizes, running big corporations or finding cures for diseases. It seems that there are a lot of people with special gifts. When I look around me at all the talented people in the world who are contributing so much, I sometimes feel small and insignificant. I often wonder what I have to offer. What is my gift? I'm not a super athlete. I don't have an IQ of two hundred. I don't have any world changing talents which I can use to make the world a better place. I used to get pretty depressed when I thought about my lack of obvious talents. Over time I came to realize that the most special gifts aren't so obvious. I also learned that these gifts can not only be found in the most unlikely people, but are more special than all the physical talents of all the athletes in the world combined. You don't have to run fast or jump high to make a difference. If each of us really looks inside ourselves, we will all find some very special gifts. We will see things such as compassion, kindness, decency, morals, a gentle soul, empathy, and patience. The list could go on and on. How about people who are fair minded and can look past race, religion, and appearance, and see what's inside? I think that's a pretty special gift. I know average unassuming people who have the gift of making others feel good about themselves. I've had teachers who have made me think and want to learn. Have you ever met a foster parent who takes in babies who were born addicted to drugs? I would think they must possess the gifts of love, caring and patience. You may ask yourself; what are my gifts? You need to go back through the previous steps. The third step is very important. You won't find your gifts alone in a dark apartment with a bottle of whiskey. I know this from personal experience. It all comes back to reaching out to others. It also helps to see what makes you happy. If you do you'll either see your own gifts or others will see them and pull them out of you into the light of day.
5. Use Your Gifts
We've all heard the saying that nothing in life is free. I don't believe that is true. What we are inside, and all of our special gifts are free; if we decide to give them away. Over the years I've found that I have my own gifts. I can put my thoughts and feelings onto paper and make people think and feel. I know how to make people laugh. Sometimes it helps them to forget about their own problems for awhile. I'm a good listener. I have the gift of really listening to people. Sometimes people need someone who they can talk to, and know that they are listening. I think one of the saddest things in the world is to have gifts, and not use them. I think about all the years I spent alone in my own little world, and it makes me sad. I could have done so much more with my gifts. I often mention purpose and potential. I believe that each of us has a purpose in life, and that each of us has unlimited potential. Some of us may have physical limitations, but the potential of our hearts and souls and minds is endless. We just need to all find our own gifts which make us so incredibly special, and then give them away.
Like many of you I've spent my life searching for meaning, and purpose and happiness in life. I'm only now starting to realize that all of these things lie within each of us. They're just waiting to come out. I also think I know what to say if anyone asks; "what is the meaning of life?"
It is finding the purpose of your existence along with personal happiness by reaching out to others with your own special gifts, and making their lives better.