Today, I woke up and checked Facebook. That was probably my first mistake. I scrolled through perfect pictures of perfect families and perfect couples taking perfect vacations or living what looks like perfect lives. Here I am–my arm is in a splint; my house is a mess; and work was especially exhausting this week. “Just perfect”, I thought letting out a sigh as I contemplated the sucky nature of my current existence.
As a mindfulness coach, I knew I needed to turn my attitude around. Honestly, this can be hard to do in modern-day society.
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Let’s Make Life Meaningful Again
Going, Going, Going…
First of all, we are living fast-paced lives.
Do you know that feeling when you’re driving and, all of a sudden, you arrive at your destination wondering, “How the heck did I get here?” You drove on automatic pilot while your mind wandered off. Those missed moments of paying attention in the moment are how many of us live our lives. I was especially guilty of this when my children were younger. Getting through the day was merely a matter of survival with little thought given to the process of enjoying the moment. My focus was laser pointed on the outcome. I was successful if my son arrived to hockey practice on time; a full course dinner made it to the table; or the pile of laundry got thrown in the washer. My life was a checklist, and satisfaction came from checkmarks.
Secondly, with the advent of social media, it’s easy to wonder if we’re measuring up or falling short as we scroll through people’s Snapchats, Twitter feeds, Instagram, or Facebook profiles.
Rationally, I’m well-aware that people don’t have perfect lives, but catch me when I’m exhausted or not feeling 100 percent, and I can fall into the trap of comparison. Then, I think, “I’m older. What about the younger generation who don’t have as much life perspective or never had the opportunity to experience the simplicity of life before the internet?” That is a lot of pressure.
Finally, we’re lonely.
Look around. Everyone’s head is down. Where are our children? Most of them are in their rooms on a screen. Humans are wired for face-to-face contact, not face to screen contact. There is something wrong when we turn to virtual friends for comfort and solace instead of the people in the next room.
I know why my week was tough; I know why teaching is becoming more challenging year after year; I know why I am seeing so many unhappy children; and I know why suicide rates have increased among all age groups.
We’ve lost perspective on what makes life meaningful.
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5 Steps Towards A More Meaningful Life
Do you know your neighbors? I used to, but sadly, I no longer make the effort. We’ve become so disconnected from each other that it almost seems strange to walk up to a door and introduce oneself. We need to know one another, and we need to rebuild our sense of community.
According to the Washington Post, “Americans are the unhappiest they’ve ever been–and it’s only getting worse . . . Researchers posit the country’s declining happiness is likely due to an ‘epidemic of addictions,’ which includes everything from substance abuse and gambling to social media usage and risky sexual behaviors.”
Community provides a sense of belonging and support. Community watches out for each other and for each other’s children. When we feel disconnected, isolated, and misunderstood, it is easy to turn to unhealthy vices to numb our pain instead of one another for support. We need to get off our screens, come out of our homes, and make connections with the people on our street, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities.
It’s time to bring family dinner back. I know it may sound unrealistic when three kids are headed off in three different directions, but it’s imperative. Even if it’s not at the same time every evening or can only occur a few nights a week, ‘breaking bread’ together forges connection. Insist on no phones. Ask questions that don’t require a yes or no answer.
For example, “What was the best part of your day, or what was the worst part of your day?”
Carve out time for family activities. Go for a walk in the park, play games, or visit a local museum. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it is together and doesn’t involve a screen.
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Church attendance is lower than ever, and it is leaving a spiritual void in our lives. There are many churches and faiths to choose from with each providing its own space of community and support. There are many reasons for declining attendance; however, with so many options I believe one can find a place where faith is made relevant. It’s hard to make meaning out of life without a sense that there is a purpose to our existence.
Instead of feeling entitled or victimized, it’s important to remember what we’re grateful for. There are multiple studies that show those who practice gratitude are happier. As I sat wallowing in bed this morning, I remembered that I’ve taken plenty of wonderful vacations, I have supportive friends and family, and I have a job that, on most days, is extremely rewarding.
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5. Acts of Kindness
It’s hard to feel unhappy when we are helping others. The fact is we receive as much joy, if not more, from completing an act of kindness as we do from receiving one. It’s important to reach out and help others who are in need. On a larger scale, when humans work, innovate, and collaborate together, an act of kindness becomes magnified and transforms into a potential agent for positive social change.
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Putting These Steps Into Action
As I wrote this, I realized that I need to own and acknowledge changes that I should make in my own life. I must insist that my children and I eat together without our phones when they return home from college. We need to plan more activities together because, in a few short years, they will have busy lives of their own. I should return to church. I found a pastor a few years ago whose message resonated with me, but I stopped attending. Finally, I must make an effort to get to know the new neighbors on my street. It’s important to have people close by who can be counted on and called friends, not just neighbors.
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“A meaningful life is not being rich, being popular, or being perfect. It’s about being real, being humble, being able to share ourselves and touch the lives of others.” – Unknown
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