Finding meaning and purpose in life is one of those adventures that is difficult for most people. For those suffering from addictions, finding what to do to feel more fulfilled seems particularly daunting.
Contented people typically have a very good understanding their values and what is important to them. They then choose goals that match those values. For example, one former client felt it was important for him to help the underprivileged and he also felt that education was important. He started helping adults learn to read and write. Another former client felt it was important for him to help suffering addicts. He enrolled in school to become an addiction counselor.
A key principle of meaning theory is that meaning is personal. You cannot give meaning to a person. It must come from within the person. Meaning does not come from a job or education or wealth. If, for example, you think, “If only I could be a Conservation Officer, then my life would have meaning and purpose.” The obvious problem is that if you’re not a Conservation Officer, then you’re screwed. Thankfully, that’s not how reality works. The job, itself, is not what gives meaning. You do. In theory, you should be able to take any job and make it meaningful to you. If may take effort and creativity on your part, but that’s’ just the way life works. You, not the job, are the key factor in living a meaningful life.
In this blog, we look at a handful of ways that SCHC alumni have told us they are finding meaning and purpose in their lives.
Two points seem to be particularly important for the alumni. First, they reported feeling energized by doing something to make their lives more fulfilling. Waking up was now exciting because they had something to accomplish. Secondly, the alumni who were doing well attached their lives to something greater than themselves, such as community or family.
One of the alumni told us that he spends several hours each week helping out those in psychiatric wards in hospitals who suffer from addiction.
He said that volunteering provides two benefits. First, he feels good helping out in the community. Secondly, it provides a reminder of where he came from.
What is particularly noticeable about him, however, is that he is filled with gratitude. Those attending 12-step programs know that gratitude is one of the spiritual principles of the program. From a scientific perspective, we know that those who practice being grateful live more fulfilling lives.
A key part of volunteering is to make sure you volunteer for something that is important to you. It often doesn’t work out if you just volunteer for any old thing.
Making Work Meaningful
A former SCHC client works in a bank. He said it’s not the most exciting job, but he has some interest in banking and it pays the bills.
He was worried that he would become bored with the routine at work, which was a major reason for his drug use. To make the work more interesting, he decided to involve the bank in a community project. In this case, it was sponsoring minor hockey teams.
With the bank managers’ blessings, he became the organizer, media person, problem-solver, and cheer-leader for this venture. He still did his regular job, of course, but the key is that he creatively figured out how to make the job more personally interesting.
FYI. Alex Pattakos, a psychologist known as “Dr. Meaning,” uses seven ideas from Viktor Frankl to help people make their jobs more meaningful. His book is called Prisoners of Our Thoughts.
An alumnus was not particularly happy with his behavior toward his partner and kids while he was in active addiction. He felt great guilt over times when he missed important family functions, such as his daughter’s birthday. He was also guilty because he didn’t feel he was there for his family. He was in the same house, but his mind was on the drugs.
In his case, he decided that his high-pressure job, often demanding long hours and irregular schedules, was a key factor in not allowing him to spend as much time with his family as he wished.
He eventually quit the job and became self-employed, offering his services as a fishing guide. He made less money, but, for him, spending more time with family was more important that the large paycheque.
Many SCHC alumni have told us that they really don’t have a goal or mission and have no idea what to do.
Research indicates that the best approach is simply to try something. At least you’ll discover whether you like it or not.
One former client knew he wanted to return to school. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he took a general program. After getting some experience in different subjects, he was able to choose a program that he truly valued.
Interestingly, when they experiment, the alumni tell us they try to listen to what their gut tells them.