Practical Exercises to Help Live a Meaningful Life

The great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was convinced that addiction is a response to living a life that lacks personal meaning.

One reason for this empty life is that the person is not true to himself or herself. They don’t understand strengths or limitations. They’re unaware of their values, what was truly important to them. They don’t appreciate that they’re capable of digging deep within and finding courage, faith, and perseverance.

If you don’t really understand who you are, then you can’t really be true to yourself. In fact, those who lack self-awareness often are more motivated not by what they want but by their own guilt or shame or fear.

Here are four exercises to help you get a better grasp of yourself. Research has shown that this understanding inevitably leads to a richer and more fulfilling life.

Growing Through Adversity

Viktor Frankl believed that any situation could offer an opportunity to grow as a person. That idea is not unique to Frankl, by the way; Shakespeare, for one, was sure of it, too. And it’s not just the nice things. Psychological research tells us that it is precisely by facing challenges and adversity we gain a better understanding of ourselves, the world around us, and how to deal with that world.

Those who feel life is dull and boring—that is, who struggle with living a meaningful life—don’t pay attention to how they can grow from adversity. They seem to learn very little, other than to reinforce old and stale thinking. “I always knew that guy was a jerk, and this is one more piece of evidence that says I’m right.” Their lives would become fuller if they appreciated that adversity is an opportunity for personal growth.

Facing a Fear

We know that living a life that is personally meaningful demands you be true to yourself. We might want to do something but are too afraid to take the risk. So rather than being true to ourselves, we choose the easy path, often by simply trying to avoid something we’re afraid of.

Choose some activity that you are afraid of doing. Keep it simple, such as dancing without being intoxicated or speaking in public. Make a plan to tackle your fear. You might just jump into it, such as grabbing your partner and go dancing. Or you might plan a less abrupt approach, such as taking a few private dancing lessons before doing the official task.

Next, just do it.

After doing it, think about your experience. How bad was it? Did you learn anything about yourself, such as your ability to face a fear and overcome it? Was all the energy you used to worry about and avoid the activity worth it? Did you meet new friends by doing it?

Being Grateful

There is a curious phenomenon happing in today’s world. When I buy something at the store, the cashier tells me, “Have a good day.” When I meet a friend in the park, he tells me, “Have a good day.”

The problem is that nobody tells me why I should have a good day. I don’t hear people say, “Have a good day . . . because you still have your health” or “Have a good day . . . because your family loves you.” The “Have a good day” bit, according to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz, actually comes from the old Christian world, “Have a good day . . . because Christ has risen.” There was a reason for having a good day.

The reason is about being grateful for something, someone, or some experience. Psychologist Robert Emmons, the guru of studying gratitude, has shown that practicing gratitude in our daily lives leads to greater well-being.

Seeing Different POVs

Coaches of business leaders have their clients look at a situation from another POV. The idea is to appreciate that the way each of us interprets a situation is only one view of it. Unfortunately, too many of these leaders assume their view is the truth. Those who practice this exercise change their beliefs.

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