Since childhood, any sense of meaning and purpose in my life entailed either caring for others or finding someone to love me, possibly due to the lack of stability I received from my early foundation. Unfortunately, I didn't know anything else at the time, so I sought to fill a void through relationships, addiction, etc. And by searching in all the wrong places, I found myself walking through life with a half-empty cup.
A few years back, I listened to an audiobook called "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl, an internationally known psychiatrist and survivor who spent three years during World War II in various concentration camps. I had no idea what it would be about, as I didn't read the synopsis beforehand. All I know is that I wasn't doing well at the time and, therefore, sought a self-help book.
Initially, I was frustrated with the book because I've never been a historical buff, but as I continued to listen, everything Dr. Frankl had written still pertained to the here and now. Essentially, it was about individuals in the camp who struggled more greatly to survive without a sense of purpose. In contrast, those with a sense of purpose still got out of bed and faced the strenuous day.
How often do you go through life on autopilot - working, raising a family, and attending school, only to repeat the exact regimen the following day and the day after that, and so on? Or, do you find yourself asking existential questions, even after a great day, such as, "Is this all that life has to offer?"
Of course, life can be monotonous, but if you repeatedly ask the same existential question, you might want to explore if something is missing. And I don't mean on the outside, but rather the inside.
Whether at home, school, or in the community, children learn the value of right from wrong, what is and isn't acceptable, and how to be kind to others and treat them with respect. These are all outstanding qualities to instill, as they help a child build great ethics and morals. However, sometimes, we miss the opportunity to allow them a voice, teach them to be kind to themselves, and inquire about what matters most to them. Therefore, it is essential to understand that we can help positively shape them as their foundation.
I was married for 20 years, had three beautiful children, great dogs, a quaint home, and even a white picket fence, yet I was incredibly depressed. I couldn't understand how someone could have everything and feel like I did, causing me to feel guilty and ungrateful. However, it wasn't that I was ungrateful but that I lacked inner meaning and purpose.
When we struggle to find meaning and purpose, we often look to work, relationships, families, material possessions, or popularity to fill that role. It’s not to say that they don’t have value, but what happens when your child becomes an adult, or you have to take a pay cut at work? What if your relationship ends or you have to transfer to another school?
Ultimately, my point is if you have meaning and purpose inside of you, any change of course or unforeseen obstacle will not affect you as much.
When my husband filed for divorce and my children no longer needed me, I fell apart. I didn't know anything outside of caring for my family, and I honestly had no purpose outside of them at the time. Shortly after, my therapist placed me in a psychiatric hospital shortly after, which was my turning point. So, I attended a four-week partial hospitalization program, participated in therapy regularly, and began volunteering at inpatient facilities. Now, I have a life worth living because I finally put my health and wellness at the forefront.
When we hear the words put ourselves first, it comes across as a selfish notion, but we can't continue to give to others on empty fumes. Think about when the flight attendant tells the passengers to put their masks on first before their children – it's a mortifying thought for a parent, but if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, how will you be able to take care of your child?
We need to care for ourselves first and foremost to thrive and survive. Otherwise, we continually seek to fill that void elsewhere. It won’t be easy at first, but you can find a life filled with inner meaning and purpose through practice.