Making Meaning: How to Get There

Walking alone along the shore black and white photograph photo by: Kevin Dooley

Winds of change, lovelies. Do you feel it? I’ve been noticing a shift in the past months—like something is coming. In addition to constantly jettisoning my possessions, I’ve also been turning away from my beloved fiction and diving headlong into nonfiction. What’s been calling to me lately has been everything about why we do the things we do, what we can do to enjoy everything more, and how our habits, attitudes, and choices affect our lives and those around us. In short: I’m hungry for a more meaningful life. Can we make more meaning somehow?

I'm constantly amazed at how we perpetually make life more complicated than it needs to be, and how roundabout we go about fixing things. I don't understand why we make choices that go directly against what we actually want. I don't understand how we can be so ignorant of what will really make us happy! I'm as guilty as anyone, and this is part of the reason I'm clearing out my belongings. What I need now is space and simply less to make room for something new. To unburden myself and make movement and growth that much easier. What I need is to move from where I am—a space lacking in understanding and meaning—into meaning that I can share.

My search stems from that lack of understanding. Bookworm that I am, I've fallen into my old habit of researching the hell out of the topic that's rattling around my brain. What I've found is that everyone has an opinion on how to make life better/more successful/better organized/more meaningful. Here’s just a peek at what I’ve been reading (and the sorts of ideas others have about how you should run your life).

You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, by Tammy Strobel

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home, by Laura Vanderkam

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor

Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, by Shawn Achor

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg (I’ll be honest. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters.)

Goodbye Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life, by Crystal Paine

How We Decide, by Johan Lehrer

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized, by Regina Leeds

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Lots of these books answer why questions, talk about simplifying, and strategize on success (because outward success = happiness, right? 😁). I won't say they have all the answers, but they do make you consider their approach and make you ask yourself what you really think. After reading each book, I make note of any interesting ideas in my commonplace book so I can mull over all the points as a whole. For the next while (and hopefully for the rest of my life), I'll be working to cultivate more meaning by using a handful of practices gleaned from these books and my reactions to them. Up first:

Reflect on a happy memory with others.

Through her own self-reflective projects, Gretchen Rubin found four stages of happiness that give her the "most bang for the happiness buck." The final stage is originally just "reflect on a happy memory," but I've also learned that relationships are a major key to adding more meaning (and happiness) to life, so I've added "with others." Incorporating others into life is something that comes easy to many people, but I'll confess: I'm awful about it. In school, I rarely had close friends, and I still have very few friends. Even worse? My abysmal track record for calling my family. Overall, I'm just not great at keeping up relationships, and I'd like to change that and embrace the meaning we can all get from really enjoying the relationships in our lives.

family fun

💞😮 Family photo. Who wouldn't want to spend more time with these two? 😮💞

I'm sure we've all had weddings and career changes and family trips and everyday loveliness in the past year, and while they've likely been met with anticipation and in-the-moment enjoyment, the reflection part of this equation often falls out the bottom and gets lost somewhere. I'm ready to take that part back! We can bring others into this practice by reminiscing with siblings on how much fun we all had at last year's family picnic, writing up and sharing a recap of our favorite moments from that trip to the coast, or sending out a throwback Thursday–type photo to a niece or nephew to bring back how amazing it was to hold them for the first time when they were babies. I've got something up my sleeve to really put this principle into practice, and I'll share it here once I've gotten myself organized.

I'll be honest: I don't know if reflecting on a happy memory with others is a surefire way to bring more meaning into life, but I'm ready to try it and see. Join me?

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