What do you most desire? And is there a way to find it? A psychotherapist friend told me the majority of his first-time clients say they desire but cannot find a sense of joy in life. “What they are seeking is not joy in the sense of momentary happiness or fun,” he explained. “What they are seeking is a life with meaning.”
Fundamentally that’s what we all seek. Various faith traditions describe our core human desire similarly, using terms like “life abundant,” “good karma,” “wholeness,” “destiny,” or “agape” — all referring to an existence that possesses a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s daily walk.
As I see it, there are four components of life that can guide you on an emotionally rich and satisfying journey. Neglect any one of these components and you too may think, “I just can’t find joy in life.” Each must be properly attended to in order to achieve a more meaningful and satisfying existence.
THE PHYSICAL COMPONENT [REST]
Whenever someone complains about a lack of emotional energy, a lessening of faith, or an absence of passion, my first question is: “How long has it been since you took any time off?”
Where our body goes our emotions follow. So it matters what we eat, how we exercise, how much we sleep, that we set aside time for activities which bring us pleasure (e.g., theater, athletics, gardening, travel, leisure time with family or friends, etc.). We may achieve certain measures of success or material reward by becoming slaves to our work or even our favorite cause, but we can also be left dispirited, lacking the energy to attain meaning in life unless we balance our work with reasonable self-care.
Self-care = Soul-care.
THE RELATIONAL COMPONENT [LOVE]
Almost a century ago one of the world’s wealthiest men on his deathbed whispered to a servant, “I would have traded it all to have been loved by someone.”
A self-absorbed life lacks meaning. And a life without meaning lacks joy. Whether extraverted or introverted, everyone needs love from life-giving relationships. Without people who know us and value us, we do not discover a fundamental sense of joy. Since new friends rarely come knocking on our doors, we find friends by being intentionally present in places where like-minded people gather, be it an alumni association, book club, church, synagogue, sports club or volunteer organization.
Additionally, it is important to project to others that which you need from them, remembering the adage “to have a friend, be a friend.” Be the one who asks questions of the other. By listening empathically, you’ll draw people to you magnetically. As relationships develop, you’ll have time to tell your story. The investment we make in others almost invariably results in relationships that shatter the darkness of loneliness with light.
To have a friend, be a friend.
THE SOCIETAL COMPONENT [ADVOCATE]
“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
Find your “something” and pour yourself into it. By working to make the world a better place, we create a more meaningful life. There is no shortage of worthy causes (aiding children or the elderly, advocating for social justice, alleviating poverty, and on and on), but to try to do all things is to do none of them effectively, while risking burn-out in the process.
Find an issue that resonates with you, which calls you like a voice from the Isle of Sirens, one that you are convinced holds the promise to make the world a better, safer, saner place. Then throw yourself into it!
The renowned physicist, Michio Kaku, rightly observed: “We should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it.”
Find one way to do so, and a life with meaning will follow.
THE SPIRITUAL COMPONENT [CONNECT]
Historically, we have searched for God hoping to bring order to chaos, to determine we are not cosmic accidents alone on a perilous journey. As Thielhard de Chardin observed: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Modern medicine now confirms the power of spirituality to enhance the human experience, demonstrating that meditation and prayer lowers blood pressure and strengthens the cardiovascular system. As wherever the body goes, the emotions follow, so wherever the soul goes, the body follows.
Over 3,000 years ago ancient religious wisdom literature suggested: “As we think in our hearts, so we are.” Today’s neuroscience affirms that ancient truth, indicating that you can think your way to a brand new you by creating new brain circuitry and thought paths to make us more positive, less negative, more confident, less self-doubting, more compassionate and less judgmental. By intentionally altering previous mental habits, fresh brain circuitry will become our new natural way of thinking.
Consult the religious texts which for centuries have provided a guide to a meaningful life, meditate on whatever you conceive of as a Greater Reality than that which is material or momentary, seek some mysterious connection with that Reality through prayer practices, and self-identify as one who is an expression of that which is love-based and lasting.
The good news is that there are ways to discover meaning, thus adding joy to our mortal journey. In balanced practice, these four keys to creating a meaningful life can energize and enliven even the most emotionally lethargic: I rest, I love, I advocate, I connect. By following those simple principles, we find the kind of life that makes us want to get out of bed in the morning!
Originally published at medium.com