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.

Uh Oh No GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

3 challenges of minimalism and how to overcome them

challenges of minimalism, simplicity, personal growth, boundaries, toxic family
Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

I wrote about the four major benefits of decluttering in a previous post. In the interest of balance, I’d like to address some of the challenges of minimalism you might encounter on your journey.

Convincing your family to get on board is just one of the challenges of minimalism you might experience.

On your way toward a simpler life, there are three major obstacles. They take courage to overcome but here’s how to deal with them and come out victorious.

1. Family

You know all the benefits of minimalism. You’re looking forward to embarking on a deep decluttering journey.

To your surprise, your family doesn’t share your passion for downsizing. They’re scared you’re trying to take away their prized possessions.

Here are a few tips for getting your family on side when it comes to minimalism.

Give them control

Assure them you’ll get their permission before giving away any of their possessions. And stick to your promise.

Give them control over their own space, like their bedrooms, which they can declutter to their own comfort level. You get to tackle the common areas like living room and kitchen.

Show them the rewards

Demonstrate the rewards of decluttering. Rather than a dozen mediocre birthday presents, they can enjoy an amazing experience like a day trip.

Spending less on things will enable you to go on vacation or pay off debt faster. Tangible rewards incentivize your family by showing them decluttering is in their best interest.

2. Culture

Another of the major challenges of minimalism is the culture we live in. It’s become more popular in recent years, but minimalism still goes against the cultural grain.

It's become more popular in recent years, but minimalism still goes against the cultural grain. Click To Tweet

Our culture has moved away from the good stewardship it once valued. Now, we’re taught to covet material things, seek out brand names, and buy fast fashion.

Here are tips for dealing with the cultural challenges of minimalism.

Shift your mindset

When you struggle with feelings of inadequacy as you pare down your wardrobe, think about French women. Their closets consist of a few quality items they mix and match and wear again and again.

Who’s more fashionable than the French? Your streamlined wardrobe is simply more carefully edited. You’ve chosen quality over quantity.

Take pride in good stewardship

Rather than shame over your old iPhone, feel proud that you refuse to upgrade when the current model works just fine.

Even if you’re not a green warrior, consuming less is fantastic for the environment. This is true on a global scale, but also within your own home.

For instance, making your own cleaning products with simple ingredients rather than buying commercial brands, has a huge impact on your health. It clears the air and helps you breathe better, literally.

3. Yourself

Of all the challenges of minimalism, this one might be the hardest. You’re up against a lifetime of faulty programming.

Your fear of change. Your fear of disappointing people. Fear of standing up for your own needs.

Downsizing and decluttering is more than physical. The deeper you go in the process, the more boundaries you’ll have to set.

It might seem easier to stay the same. You may feel very alone at times.

Here are tips for dealing with your own tendency to stay stuck and resist the good change downsizing promotes in your life.

Have the hard conversations

If you have family members or friends who balk at your new commitment to a clutter-free lifestyle, talk to them about it.

Well before Christmas have a serious discussion about your expectations around gift-giving. Be clear about what you will and will not accept.

Tell them they can give one gift per family member (or whatever number you decide). If they ignore your wishes, let them know the children will pick one and give the rest away to a worthwhile cause.

Write down your top 5 values

Deciding what to keep and let go of helps you get clear on what you value. As a result you might find there are things in your life that don’t align with those values.

It’s possible you’ve lived your whole life misaligned with your values and this has caused you a great deal of pain. The disconnect has made you seek escape through unhelpful habits or even addictions.

When you get clear on your values and live by them, your sense of peace and fulfillment increases exponentially. You don’t have to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like shopping or excess wine to make you feel better.

When you get clear on your values and live by them, your sense of peace and fulfillment increases. Click To Tweet

If you crave connection, for instance, spending most of your time with superficial people is going to harm you. Spend less time with them and cultivate relationships with people who share your desire to go deep.

In the same way, if you value solitude, a full house and constant contact with others will only leave you feeling depleted. Insist on alone time, plan for it, protect it and leave the house to get it when you need to.

Enlist support

Join groups that encourage your new minimalist lifestyle. Spend more time with people who embrace living with less.

Read blogs written by folks who have gone through the downsizing process and are now enjoying the results.

Try the Project 333 wardrobe challenge and wear the same 33 items of clothing for 3 months. Find others online who are doing the same.

Listen to podcasts that celebrate the myriad ways downsizing leads to a better life in all areas.