Creating Meaning: The Meaning Triad
Whilst we all know that we want to be happy, we often don’t choose paths that lead to happiness. We can tend to live life on autopilot, through routines, schedules and according to a strict time frame. This can result in focusing on what is expected and required of oneself, opposed to focusing on what is meaningful and important. These ‘requirements’ may be expectations from others (parents, partner, boss), but they can also be self-imposed (eg. this is what I believe I have to do to be successful). What is truly necessary to provide fulfilment and happiness in life is to create meaning, requiring one to think about what’s and why’s behind their thoughts and actions. The best way to find happiness is to engage in activities that are meaningful to ourselves, and to achieve goals that are in line with our values. Finding meaning and purpose in life is one of the greatest ways to find happiness.
Values creating goals
In ‘Know Your Mind’ get in touch with our personal core values as part of the section “Know what matters“. When we understand what is important to us, we can start to identify how we can use these values, through various goals and actions, to create a more meaningful life. In order to have a meaningful life we need purpose. Finding this purpose is essential in our development. This is not to say that our purpose is fixed; we need to remain flexible in relation to how our values change over time. When our purpose no longer brings us happiness, we need to re-examine our values and see what is going wrong and where the conflict lies. It is important to note that values are not goals, feelings, or outcomes, and are not in the future. To really determine whether we are living in accordance with our values, consider the following ten domains. Look again at the values that you identified as important and explore how each of these can be strengthened in each area of your life. Some domains may be irrelevant to you such as parenting, career or spirituality. In MindStudios we do not judge which are areas of importance; this is your path to choose.
How do you wish to see each of your values (identified in ‘Know what Matters’) manifest in each of these areas of your life (where relevant)? Start to make goals in each of the following areas.
- Marriage/Couple/Intimate Relationship – Think about what kind of person would you most like to be in the context of an intimate relationship.What values to you bring to your relationship and what values do you think you need to express more through action?
- Parenting – Think about what it means to you to be a mother or father. What meaningful things do you wish to pass on to your children? How are you actively supporting your child’s growth and learning in these areas you have identified? What actions can you perform to improve this area?
- Family relations (other than intimate relations or parenting) – What values would you like to see manifest in this area of your life?
- Friendship/Social relations – What kind of friend would you like to be?
- Career/Employment – What kind of a difference do you want to make through your job? Does this job fulfil a specific value for you? What meaning does this create for you?
- Education/Training/Personal Growth & Development – What areas do you wish to grow in that will increase meaning in your life? What specific education or training do you need to make this a reality?
- Recreation/Leisure – Think about what is meaningful to you about your hobbies, vacations, sports and other forms of recreation. What meaning can you generate in these areas?
- Spirituality – Does your faith, spirituality and religious practices bring meaning into your life or are they empty rituals? Can you enhance this meaning in your life by connecting in new ways?
- Citizenship – Think about your past contributions – what would you like to contribute to society? How can applying your values here increase meaning in your life?
- Health/Physical Well-being – How do your values express themselves in this area of your life?
Creating a ‘goals inspiration board’
Above we should have been able to identify in different areas of our life where our values are not being expressed fully. We now need to come up with specific goals to start to live truly by our value systems. Find pictures that describe your goals and values on the internet, in your photo albums, magazine clippings or other sources, and attach them to the board. Place your inspiration board in a visible position where you can see it everyday. Each day you can then look at the board and decide what specific actions you can perform that day in order to live according to these values and achieve your goals.
Goals creating actions
One of the most important things we need to do once we have identified our current values is to set goals to use these values to create a more meaningful life. In order to achieve these goals we need to understand the specific actions that need to be carried out. We need to make sure that they are S.M.A.R.T goals; specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. The steps needed to achieve these goals should be challenging yet achievable.
But how do we create actions from goals?
A main goal can be broken down into many small activities that can be performed regularly. Each day, we can choose 3 things, no matter how small, that can help us move forward on the path to attaining these goals.
For example, if your goal is to be a more present parent for your children, things you could do each day to move toward this goal might be:
- Take your kids to the park after work.
- Talk to the kids about their day – ask what they did and who they played with.
- Read them a bedtime story before they go to sleep.
- Take 10 minutes before they go to bed to have a chat about anything they would like to chat about (could introduce gratitude exercises).
- Practice mindfulness when they are talking, being present and maintaining eye contact.
- Let your child have input into family activities such as deciding where to go on the weekend or helping choose meals during the week.
- Make sure where possible, the family sit down for a meal together several times a week with no TV or other distractions.
These small, everyday actions can contribute to short-term goals. We can make a list of possible ways to achieve the goals we desire, and then select 3 of these goals a day. In turn, your short-term goals contribute to long-term goals, such as being a more present parent. These long-term goals may take months or years to achieve. Long-term goals are important and meaningful as they reflect your core values (e.g. being a good parent), which are ongoing and may be lifelong.