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.
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.