7 July 2014
A friend asked me recently is a meaningful life the same as a happy life. What a great question I thought! It is such a good question, this newsletter is a bit longer than usual.
In my opinion happiness can mean two very different things.
One is that happiness is something we feel when our circumstances are just right – everything comes together in a way we want, and we are happy. 'Happy' derives from the 14th century word 'hap' meaning 'chance.' In this meaning, when chance favours us we are happy. We receive some unexpected money, we are happy. We receive an unexpected bill, we are unhappy. Of course we can aim towards circumstances that we hope will make us happy, but ultimately our happiness is like branches of a tree being blown around by the uncontrollable weather.
Happiness can also mean equanimity - an evenness of mind and emotions. When the wind blows our state of mind is more like the solid trunk of a tree that moves very little. This is where meaning comes in. In my opinion this sort of happiness and solidity comes from a state of mind born from meaning. Just like a great story, a meaningful life can contain the spectrum of emotions. It carries us. Meaning is something we weave through our experiences to make sense of life. Our creation of meaning gives us an inner richness and sense of belonging.
In my experience creating a meaningful life starts with paying attention. We slow down and observe with an open mind and an open heart. We pay attention to what is happening around us, and what is happening inside of us. Above all, we learn to trust that what we are thinking and feeling is reasonable.
I have been coaching and counselling individuals for around seven years. Over that time I have come to the conclusion that so much of what works against us is our difficulty to listen openly and non-judgementally to what we think and feel. From dealing with how to create a successful career to how to create a fulfilling personal relationship, we so often believe that what goes on in our head is wrong, and needs to be corrected. I believe the creation of a meaningful life starts with developing an ability to sit with and listen to whatever we tell ourselves. We listen from a place of support, compassion and care for ourselves. We notice our shame, guilt or embarrassment, our beliefs that we don't deserve, that we are unsuccessful, that no one listens to us. When we sit quietly and patiently with our thoughts, feelings and sensations, listening with an open heart and mind, we learn about our inner life. And as we learn, so meaning begins. We start to sense more clearly how our journey has got us here. And we start to see and feel how we would like to shape our journey into the future. We start to see our life less as black-and-white, right and wrong, and more as a story where we, as the hero, have always made the best of the information and understanding we have had at the time. We start to accept ourselves more fully, and make more effective use of the gifts available to us.
Meaning, by its nature, is about nurturing, empowering and connecting.
So, can you hear the stories you are telling yourself about your life? Are they rich stories that connect you to your world and empower your vision for a good life? Or are they stories of blame and frustration, isolation and fear, winners and losers. If you hear the latter, sit with these stories for a while. Listen to them with a kind heart. And see if a wider, more compassionate and enlivening meaning emerges.
I am always interested to hear your thoughts, so do email me if you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to make an appointment to discuss this in more depth.