How monumental experiences change us in ways nothing else can

monumental experiences
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

Have you ever known or heard of people whose lives were transformed by monumental experiences? A brush with death, for instance, sends them running after their dreams full-tilt, unwilling to settle for anything less.

I’ve known people who have emerged from near-fatal car accidents and completely changed their lives. One abandoned her career trajectory to start a new business. And, best of all, she charged what she was worth.

You don’t need to escape death to change your life for the better, though. Here are 5 other monumental experiences that render our old lives unrecognizable.

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1. Divorce

They say divorce is the hardest thing a person can go through, short of losing someone through death. Some say it feels like a death, the loss is so extreme.

When we go through something as hard as divorce, it gives us new courage. We decide to pursue things we never did because we feared what people would think.

A divorce exposes you to all kinds of public scrutiny. You suddenly realize you can survive the disapproval of others. Heck, you can even thrive in the face of it.

A divorce exposes you to all kinds of public scrutiny. You realize you can survive the disapproval of others. Click To Tweet

You likely experience abandonment from at least a few of your friends. You seek out new friends more aligned with your values.

Surviving this painful process gives you courage to pursue passions that laid dormant during your unhappy marriage.

2. Losing a loved one

So much beauty has come out of the ashes of untimely deaths. For example, the mother of a boy whom a drunk driver killed, started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The organization has saved thousands of lives with its roadside sobriety spot checks. These have become part of our holiday routine and bring us together in a shared desire to keep others safe.

Countless other foundations have sprung up in the name of lost loved ones. The mothers of these lost souls abandon careers to take up new roles they never imagined themselves in.

3. Moving

monumental experiences

Moving to a new region or country is one of those monumental experiences that can spur you to change everything. That’s because, suddenly, your life is a clean slate.

Nobody knows you or your history and that brings tremendous freedom. Now, you can be more intentional about friendships and let go of those that only survived due to proximity.

Moving can spur you to change everything. Nobody knows you or your history and that brings tremendous freedom. Click To Tweet

You find freedom in the distance from family members. No more obligatory visits or unwanted intrusions on your life.

Whether they’re toxic or not, a little distance from family can help you re-discover yourself. Who are you without the influence of those who’ve known you forever?

4. Job loss

Losing a job can prompt you to start that business you’ve always dreamed about. It can make you more authentic and care less what people think.

You no longer have to wear a mask to fit into the culture at work. Nor do you have to tolerate the workplace bully.

You might realize for the first time that money doesn’t equal happiness. You want to make up for all that lost time you traded for a regular paycheck. That makes you more intentional about how you spend your time now.

5. Um, a pandemic

We won’t step around the elephant in the room, the worldwide pandemic. Among monumental experiences, this one ranks high.

The pandemic has brought unspeakable losses, both in life and finances. We’ve been forced to look at life differently, and accept things we never thought we’d have to tolerate.

We’ve seen how much humans can stand and how resilient we are. Without our distractions and routines, we’ve been forced to get quiet and look within.

That’s forced some of us to take stock of who we are and what matters to us. Have we been living life authentically? In some cases, that introspection has led to the very monumental experiences discussed above.

How to find meaning in life and why it matters more than pleasure

meaning in life

Years ago, I attended a personal growth seminar called Landmark. After two days of intense training, the meeting wrapped up with the proclamation that there’s no meaning in life.

None of it matters, the facilitator proclaimed, and I knew he was wrong. The idea that nothing in life carries any meaning stood contrary to everything I believed.

Later on, I read a book by Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, which strengthened my belief that meaning in life is, in fact, our primary source of happiness.

Pursuing pleasure does not make you happy. Finding meaning does. Click To Tweet

Contrary to what you’d expect, pursuing pleasure does not make you happy. Finding meaning does.

That’s why so many people who achieve happiness goals are shocked to discover they feel empty and unfulfilled.

As Frankl demonstrated in his book, finding meaning in life can keep you alive in dire circumstances.

When others give up, your decision to find meaning in your suffering will enhance your will to survive.

When other outlets aren't available, suffering becomes an opportunity to grow. Click To Tweet

Ideally, we’ll find meaning in life through the pursuit of goals or expressing ourselves creatively. But, when those outlets aren’t available, suffering becomes an opportunity to grow.

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Victor Emil Frankl

Without meaning, people fill their God-shaped hole with the pursuit of pleasure. They wrongly believe this will make them happy.

But how could pursuing happiness not make you happy? Because we’re not wired to feel fulfilled by pleasure without meaning.

That’s why addictions happen. Think about alcohol and drug dependence, pornography, or anything else people use to make themselves feel better.

Why meaning in life promotes long-term happiness

Often, we pursue pleasure to distract us from our suffering. Drinking too much wine and other coping mechanisms will numb you from pain in the short term.

But that pain is a sign something needs to change in your life. Therefore, those so-called pleasures prevent you from doing the work to make your life better.

When you medicate symptoms instead of looking for a cure, you prevent your life from improving. Click To Tweet

In the long term this decreases your happiness. When you medicate symptoms instead of looking for a cure, you prevent your life from improving.

Valuing meaning in life tends to correlate with a future filled with more health and happiness than the present.

Research shows people who have meaning in life and believe it matters do better in these five ways:

1. lower risk of divorce and living alone

2. increased social and cultural connections

3. lower rates of chronic illness and depression

4. less obesity and more physical activity

5. healthier eating and exercise habits

So, how do we find meaning in life? Here are five ideas that come to mind, but there are many more:

1. Thinking about and serving others.

2. Leading a healthy lifestyle with good diet and exercise.

3. Positive social connections.

4. Gratitude.

5. Dreaming about a brighter future (and taking steps to make it happen).

Sadness, anger are important and nothing to be ashamed of

feeling down

Have you ever felt ashamed of your sadness? Like, when you feel low but force yourself to look on the bright side?

You shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit when you’re unhappy. It’s natural for feelings to ebb and flow.

I loved the movie Inside Out, a Disney film my kids and I went to see years ago. It acknowledged the importance of expressing all our emotions.

And rather than labeling them good or bad, they all had a job to do.

It turned out Sadness had the most important job of all. She showed up when the protagonist needed help and made sure she got it.

In my post on emotional neglect, I touched on the tendency to fear so-called negative emotions. To label them good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable.

I will expand on that concept here and describe the purpose of these emotions. 4 reasons to embrace rather than fear anger and sadness.

4 reasons to embrace anger

sadness mental health

1. Anger that manages to stay under wraps will eventually cause physical illness.

I read about monks who refused to acknowledge their anger and showed higher rates of diabetes. This, despite the fact their diets were healthier than average.

So, stuffed anger can be a good deal more dangerous than expressed rage.

2. Anger helps you know when something is not working.

It might be that you are being mistreated and disrespected. You might need to remove yourself from the situation.

Or take a serious look at what needs to change in your life so you are treated the way you deserve.

3. Anger can help you see where you have internal work to do.

For instance, if you feel angry at being asked to do something. It could be that you are uncomfortable setting boundaries.

Anger at the person asking is masking your guilt around setting boundaries. So, now you know what you need to work on.

4. Anger can also act as a signal for others to stay away from you.

That way you have space and time to work out your feelings without hurting anyone.

4 reasons to embrace sadness

1. Suppressing sadness can have the counter-intuitive effect of making you more depressed.

Refusing to acknowledge sadness takes away the opportunity to deal with things that might be causing the pain. This keeps you feeling stuck and hopeless.

2. Sadness helps you slow down and look at a problem.

When felt and processed it can lead to personal growth and healthy change. When it’s denied, however, things stay the same and that may not be a good thing.

sadness personal growth

3. When acknowledged, sadness gives us an opportunity to turn inward.

Not in a selfish way but in an honest way. It says, things are not okay and we need to find out why. It helps us connect with ourselves.

4. It’s also a time to draw near to God.

I’ve never felt closer to my savior then during periods of intense sadness.

You might feel scared to surrender to your sadness because you fear where it will take you. In my experience, it’s never as bad as you think it will be.

(Unless you’re dealing with depression which is a different issue and not covered here.)

When I first started to allow myself time to sink into sadness I assumed it would put me out for days. Truth is, even the most intense feeling of sadness would see me recover in less than a day.

I’m sure my dependence on God has a lot to do with that manageable time frame. It’s in my weakness His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Cultural importance of sadness and anger

These so-called negative emotions of anger and sadness have benefits beyond our personal lives. Famous paintings like The Scream have depended on their artist’s lower moods for their inspiration.

When Munch painted his masterpiece, his sister had been committed to an insane asylum. He said the inspiration for the work came from a scream he heard in nature while taking a walk during this hard time.

Handel wrote his most famous composition Messiah only after grappling with dark feelings. Beethoven’s most inspiring symphonies (including the Fifth) came out of his sadness.

Virginia Woolf, John Keats, and Vincent Van Gogh also produced their finest creations while struggling emotionally.

Mom, make these three changes to avoid feeling overwhelmed

mom boundaries

Are you the mom who carts her kids to too many extracurricular activities? Maybe you eat in the car on the way to your next thing.

You feel like you’re constantly running ragged and behind schedule. Doing too many things you don’t want to do. But can’t seem to see a way out.

If this describes your family life, you might be a mom who struggles with people pleasing or how to set effective boundaries.

You say ‘yes’ way too much because you don’t have a good enough reason to say ‘no’. This takes a huge toll on you.

Not only does it deplete your energy as you stretch yourself too thin. It also compromises your self-worth because you’re not protecting yourself from things that don’t nourish your soul.

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Mom, make these three changes

There are changes you can make to stop feeling over scheduled and out of control. They will make you feel more in charge of your life and aligned with your true self.

The most common advice given to a busy mom is to hire a babysitter. External solutions, like asking for help, are effective, but this post will dig deeper than that.

We’ll look at three internal solutions to the problem of over-giving among overwhelmed moms.

1. Resist the comparison trap

Often, the reason you’re doing too much as a mom is because you’re comparing yourself to other parents.

If the neighbor’s kids participate in multiple activities, you feel pressured for your kid to do the same.

Rather than tuning in to your own intuition about what’s best for your children, you’re following someone else’s formula.

It takes a lot of courage to go against the grain and do things differently than the norm. That’s why it’s so important to get really clear on your values.

So you can use them as a filter through which you make choices that impact your family’s time.

What values are you willing to defend or make sacrifices to uphold? Click To Tweet

2. Know your values

Do you have a firm grasp on what’s important to you? What values are you willing to defend or make sacrifices to uphold?

For instance, if you value having dinner together as a family at least five times a week, you won’t sign up for an activity that encroaches on that time.

Don’t be afraid to stand out for staying true to your values. You might become known for what you believe in and that’s a good thing.

Standing up for your values sets a positive example for your children. They’ll see that some things are worth the sacrifice it takes to protect and preserve them.

What other values can you name that will help you decide what to say yes or no to as a mom?

Determine your values and write them down to remind yourself what matters to you. Use these to guide you every time you need to make a decision.

This will help you set appropriate boundaries and align your life with your beliefs.

3. Embrace simplicity

Our culture has seen a big shift in recent years. We’ve become a society that spends more than we earn.

We put things on credit rather than saving up for them. We crave instant gratification and have devalued the patience of waiting for a reward.

It's hard to say 'no' to our children but it's worth it. Click To Tweet

It’s hard to say ‘no’ to our children but it’s worth it. Overspending on material things essentially means less time spent on more important things.

You’ll be working more hours to pay all those bills. That means time away from your family. Or stress that impinges on the time you do spend together.

When you embrace simplicity, and remember that the best things are free, life is sweeter and less complicated.

Helping your children cherish eternal rather than material things is the greatest gift you could give them.

Back to basics

Maybe you’re deep in a materialistic, over scheduled lifestyle and think it’s too late to change. You made a few poor choices and now you’re stuck with a life you never intended.

It’s not easy to reverse years of faulty programming. But it is possible.

When you stop letting others dictate how you live your life, you’ll experience a new freedom.

If you put these three changes into place, you will find you can breathe again. You will be living a life where the choices you make bring you closer to who you are. Click To Tweet

If you put these three solutions into place, you will find you can breathe again. You will be living a life where the choices you make bring you closer to who you are.

4 benefits of decluttering your home including reduced stress

benefits of decluttering
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

I discovered the benefits of decluttering when I moved from a house to a condo in 2013.

As a divorced mom, the upkeep of a three-story dwelling had taken its toll on me both physically and financially.

I loved the idea of pushing garbage down a chute rather than lugging huge bins to the curb every week.

And no more snow shoveling in winter sounded too good to be true.

Only problem, we would have to downsize our possessions to fit comfortably into the new space.

The more we purged, the easier it became to say goodbye to things that had outlived their usefulness.

The more we purged, the easier it became to say goodbye to things that had outlived their usefulness. Click To Tweet

The truth that downsizing and decluttering only improved our lives came as a big surprise. There was no down side.

4 benefits of decluttering

Many people acknowledge that the clutter in their homes causes undue stress. But they have no time to do anything about it.

I believe if more people knew the life-changing benefits of decluttering they would find the time, and experience balance in all areas of their lives.

Here are just four of the many benefits of decluttering your home.

1. Reduced stress

It’s hard to relax in a cluttered room. Trying to decompress after a hard day in a space strewn with stuff is all but impossible.

You spend your down time reorganizing junk or putting things away, rather than putting your feet up. And that builds frustration, the opposite of what you want when your goal is to unwind.

Every day you experience the tension of time spent looking for items. Kids are late for school because they can’t find their shoes or books.

That pressure trickles down to your loved ones who bear the brunt of your annoyance. Not to mention the effect on your own peace of mind.

Clutter in your surroundings hurts your ability to focus. The extraneous items in your field of vision take you away from the task at hand.

Clutter in your surroundings hurts your ability to focus. Click To Tweet

Whether you have to physically clear the items, or simply take note of them in your mind, clutter divides your attention.

In this way it can negatively impact your productivity as well. Clearing the clutter for good alleviates all these stressors.

2. Improved confidence

Successful decluttering of your space feels like a major achievement, because it is! You’ve done something most people lack the self-discipline to carry out.

You’re facing an issue head on and refusing to settle for less than you deserve. You’ve made tough decisions about what stays or what goes.

As you decide what to keep or donate, you get more clear on your values. You get to know yourself better as you discover your likes and dislikes.

As you decide what to keep or donate, you get more clear on your values. Click To Tweet

When you look around and see a space you feel proud to call your own, your confidence increases. You feel in control of your space and your life.

3. Financial rewards

When you take the time to declutter your home, you reap financial rewards. You can sell quality brand name items on Craigslist or Kijiji.

When you clean out your closet, those designer clothes you no longer wear will fetch you a good price online or at the consignment store.

You’ll find bills inside pockets of clothes you haven’t worn in months or years.

When you clean up your files, you find credit balances on card statements or bank accounts you forgot about.

Hosting a garage sale will net you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Your newly organized life could inspire you to create a budget each month (or download an app). Now you’ll see long-term financial benefits of decluttering.

4. Improved family time

When you live in a cluttered house, you and your family spend too much time clearing up messes and not enough time enjoying one another.

Rather than spending time outdoors together, you waste Saturday afternoons cleaning out the garage. And because of clutter creep, it needs doing over and over.

Your frustration over a messy environment means you yell at your kids to tidy up. Then you feel guilty or angry at them for having to be told the same thing again and again.

When you get serious about decluttering and stop merely managing the mess, peace ensues.