Man cannot stand a meaningless life.
Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” focuses on the importance of finding a sense of purpose in life, no matter how heinous your external circumstances. The first half explores different ways his fellow prisoners reacted to incarceration at Auschwitz, while the second part details Logotherapy, the psychological model he developed from the death camp experience.
If you are reading this you are probably not in as horrific a situation as Dr. Frankl was; however, it can still feel mighty challenging to infuse life with meaning when issues with work, health, family, finances, etc. weigh you down. Often, one’s internal list of priorities doesn’t even include a search for meaning; and, more’s the pity, since finding meaning in anything you do makes it easier to bear the more odious experiences life hands out.
There are as many ways to find meaning in life as there are people. Typically they have two things in common: feeling useful and appreciated. The first one is fairly obvious, the second, less so.
No matter how spiritually evolved you are, you still have an ego, and it will express itself until your last breath. By feeding it a healthy dose of appreciation (whether from external sources, yourself, or a combination of the two), you infuse your time on earth with more meaning.
Just as eating does not mean gorging, some external ego nourishment will not turn you into what Albert Ellis called a Love Slob, someone who thinks it’s horrible if they don’t get massive amounts of approval from others. Here, balance is key. You don’t want to be so dependent on other people’s approbation that you shrivel up emotionally without it; on the other hand, setting up your life so you get regular doses of appreciation simply feels good. While doing good is its own reward, few people are truly satisfied with absolutely no recognition. Nor, is that necessarily a wise goal, since it is through interacting with others that you can feel validated for your unique contributions to society.
A healthy ego is not an inflated one. It enables you to go out into the world with enough confidence to do what fulfills you and benefits others. Knowing what you do well ignites your vibrancy and engagement in life, while giving you the strength to acknowledge what doesn’t come easily and address those areas.
Here are a few reminders of all you do to contribute your unique talents to the world:
taking care of yourself
being considerate to others
caring for elderly relatives
rehabbing or repurposing things
giving to charity
caring for animals
growing a flower or vegetable
planting a tree
helping your friends, family, and neighbors
Forms of appreciation might include:
saying thank you
keeping a gratitude journal
noticing ways you are changing and growing
sending cards, texts, or emails to let people know you value them
One could argue that having a life full of meaning might preclude the desire for appreciation, but feeling valued often adds to one’s sense of meaning and joy in contributing to the world, thus insuring you keep sharing your unique gifts.
The ultimate way to guarantee you will feel appreciated is to practice appreciating yourself. It is easy to keep the focus outwards, seeking what you want from others, but one way you can be sure of getting approval is to make it an inside job. You may think it won’t feel as good as it would if you get it from someone else, but that simply tells you how little you value your own opinion. Practice dwelling and basking in the myriad joys you create every day for yourself and others. Something as simple as fully acknowledging another soul with a smile, hug, handshake, or deep listening has an enormous impact on the world.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang