A guest post by Christopher F. Brown, LCSW, MBA, adapted from the book The Art of Meaningful Living by Brown and artist John Palmer
Are you living your meaningful life, or is it buried under hundreds of different disappointments and lost dreams? Meaningful living is choosing your passions over your fears. It is accepting what you cannot control and focusing on what is within your power. Meaningful living is intentional, effective and respectful. Meaningful lives are built decision by decision, one day at a time.
Your meaningful life is beautiful. It is strong. It is unique. It is within you. Your meaningful life is what you are passionate about. Meaningful living requires you to actively choose your behaviors based on your personal elements of meaningful living.
One way to define your passions is to prioritize the following ten elements of meaningful living. The elements are inspired by the ideas of psychologist Kelly G. Wilson, PhD. One element is not intrinsically better than another; they’re just different. Your meaningful life is unique, as are you. You define your passions and can live them. You can master your mind. You can act in ways that you value. You can have your meaningful life.
Friends are the family of your choosing. Friendships are far more than casual acquaintances; they require care and attention. When your friends and social life are central to your meaningful life, the effort feeds both you and your friend, plus the relationship between the two of you.
Expand your range of experience to develop yourself. Growth is characterized by continuing education, training in new specialties, experiencing other cultures and learning new skills. Yes, growth can be painful, but when continual development is central to your meaningful life, the experience is worth it.
Care for yourself physically and emotionally because life can be difficult. You will need to heal from its experiences and lessons. Heal with adequate sleep, a nourishing diet, physical activity, healthy relationships and professional treatments. This passion establishes your self-care as an equal priority with the needs of others.
When the growth and development of others provides you with fulfillment, nurturing is your passion. Parenting certainly can provide you a chance to nurture, but having children is only one of many ways to fulfill this passion. Nurture through mentoring or coaching. Care for other living things, like pets or plants. When nurturing is your passion, you nourish others to nourish yourself.
To partner is to join another person in an intimate relationship. These relationships are embodied by public commitments that unite one human being to another. Intimate partnerships require you to love, desire and long for another person. Successful partnerships also require consistent care, with each person able to be both “I” and “we” within the relationship.
Play is activity with the purpose of relaxing, amusing and delighting yourself. If you have forgotten how to play, spend time watching young children; they’re the experts. Forms of play are only limited by your imagination. Adults play in their intimate relationships, hobbies and pastimes. Whether you enjoy going to the movies, traveling to new places or collecting vintage toys, it is all recreation, or a form of play.
This element of meaningful living connects you with who you came from: your family of origin. When connecting with the family you were adopted or born into is a passion, invest energy and time into your relationships with Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Cousin or other kin who are important to you.
Serving a community, large or small, can bring great satisfaction and meaning. When actions of service consistently give you energy and contentment, serving is one of your passions. Serving in the military or government service, joining in professional organizations or activist coalitions and volunteering in nonprofit organizations, neighborhood associations or school committees are different ways to pursue a passion of service.
Transcendence is the ability to exist above and apart from the material world. Spirituality is transcendent. Your spirituality may include organized religion, or it may not. Regardless, you transcend when you believe in a power greater than yourself that connects all of us. Pursue this universal force by being involved with a church, a twelve-step program or an organized meditation with a focus on connecting with a larger world. Creativity is also transcendent. Be open to your creative energy by transcending, or rising above, your day-to-day struggles.
When work is your passion, it’s more than earning a living; it becomes a calling. Careers and professional personas are often people’s defining characteristics. Providing for yourself and others is a way to build self esteem and confidence in your capabilities. Financial security can also be the means by which other areas of meaningful living can have expression.
Author of The Art of Meaningful Living, Christopher F. Brown, LCSW, MBA, has a private therapy practice in Houston, and is a fellow of the Houston Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute and the Menninger Clinic and Baylor College of Medicine. Visit theartofmeaningfulliving.com for more information.