FIGuring Life Out – A roadmap for happiness and well being: Part 4 – Meaning


Photo by Elizabeth Messina

I took last summer off and spent a lot of time with my kids. It was amazing. I felt full and happy. Soon after they went back to school, we had an unexpected move to NYC.  When I got to New York, I couldn’t at first work as a therapist because I had to wait for a New York State License (which felt like 6 eternities).  Initially, it was fun and exciting to be in the city without something structured to do.  I walked all over the place, ate lots of good food, and taught myself how to ride the subway.  But then, it got harder to do those things and before I knew it I was watching back to back Law & Order SVU episodes.  Not like a one-day fun TV binge, more like the curtains were drawn and I was watching Benson & Stabler all day, every day.  Not only did this venture make me feel sure that everyone I intersected with when I did leave my apartment was going to kill me after doing a host of horrible things to me, but my mood was terrible – my sense of well-being was nonexistent.


Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.

 Elie Wiesel

I need not look far to understand what was going on with me then.  My daily life was missing meaning (the M in PERMA – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment). According to Seligman, it’s pretty simple, if we generally feel that what we do in our lives is valuable and worthwhile, we feel happier and are on our way to flourishing.  I found this to be very true for me.  Now that I am back doing clinical work I feel a rich sense that I am doing something worthwhile, contributing outside of myself and my sense of well-being is quite high.What gives your life meaning? If you read this and instantly know the answer, then you are on the right track. If you aren’t so sure, it’s worth exploring. It isn’t “one size fits all” and there isn’t a single, right answer. But knowing the answer for yourself is essential for your well-being.  It may be something big (you working to find the cure for cancer) or something relatively small (you volunteer an hour a week at the Animal Shelter). You may find your meaning through your work, through recreational activities, in church, or by caring for others.  

We don’t need to make this complicated. It can really be quite simple. What matters to you? What contributions can you make to the world that feel worthwhile to you? Finding a way to belong to and serve something that you believe is bigger than yourself, that’s the key.

50 Favorite Words – #5 Self-sufficient

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Imagine what daily life would be like if you were supremely confident in your own resources.  You would walk around every day with a presence that would draw others to you, you would face new challenges with excitement, you would say things to yourself that would have you beaming and holding your head high…

Self-sufficient.  I’m enough.  It sounds nice.  Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean be a selfish, narcissistic, jerk. It can mean being a boundaried, confident, and loving adult.

Finding this word took a long time (literally and figuratively). I was looking for a word that was like selfish (considering oneself) but that wasn’t pejorative. But in the English language, considering one’s needs is apparently a bad thing because it connotes not caring about anyone else. Unfortunately, that deep seeded belief that it is “selfish,” inconsiderate, indulgent to consider one’s own needs leaves many of us caring for others while utterly disregarding ourselves. In fact, many of us take it even one step further, we are harsh and critical of ourselves, have an internal dialogue that we wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else (more on this in future posts…).

As I write about relationships and caring for others, I feel compelled to pause and reflect upon the relationship we have with ourselves. There is a reason why we are instructed to secure our own oxygen masks before we help someone else.

There are three main reasons why treating yourself like your best, most favorite person makes good common sense. First, it turns out that you are the one sure thing in your life. You will be there with yourself until the end. Developing a really strong positive relationship with yourself will make that journey a much more pleasant one. Second, it will help you to be much more discerning in your choices about who you develop outside relationships with. When we feel crappy and desperate we aren’t super selective. The last reason, is that thing we have all heard and sort of know (even though it sounds pyscho-babbly) – to take in love from others we have to first love ourselves.  Having a positive relationship with yourself is truly a pre-requisite for a positive relationship with anyone else.

So, how do we get started? Just like in romance, what if you swept yourself off your own feet.  Be your own best partner and the kindest loving friend.  Do all of the sweet things for yourself you wish someone was doing for you:

1. Tell yourself 3 things you like about yourself (really think about it, be specific).

2. Make yourself a special meal – nothing but the finest ingredients (what if you actually treated every meal with yourself as if it was special – not fancy, but special).

3. Run yourself an extra bubbly bath and bring your favorite magazine in for a soak.

4. Organize a lunch with all of your favorite friends.

5. Get a monthly pass to your favorite yoga studio and give yourself permission to go almost every day.