A while back I did a video called Meaning, The Self-Destruct Button. In that video, I demonstrated how the meaning you assign to an experience can destroy your life. Today, I’m going to show you how meaning can save your life. I’m going to show you how finding meaning and a way to make the things you do really matter, will totally transform your quality of life.
Fulfillment is a feeling we are all looking for in life. We want to feel fulfilled by the things that we are doing. We want the things we do to really matter. We want a life that is rich with meaning. But all too often we feel like we are just going through the motions of life, getting busy with the emptiness of the things that we feel must or should be done.
We need to take two approaches to making our life rich with meaning through living our life for what matters. The first is to make sure that everything we are doing actually matters. The second is to realize that if we change the meaning of what we are doing, we can make most of what doesn’t seem to matter, deeply matter.
When we take the first approach, we take a serious look at whether what we are doing really matters or not. And we then live our life according to what really matters. We stop putting our energy into the things that we realize really don’t matter. One of the greatest gifts of lying on your death bed or experiencing a near death experience or even of having someone you love die, is that it puts all things into perspective. It shows you what really matters. One of the best tools to use in your life on an ongoing basis is to practice closing your eyes and imaging that you are on your deathbed but you are looking back at whatever you are currently and in this moment trying to make a decision about, whatever you are putting your energy into, whatever you are worrying about, whatever you are doing or thinking about doing. And ask yourself, does this matter? If the answer is no, stop putting energy into it and find something else that matters to put your energy into. If the answer is yes, ask yourself why for the sake of your own awareness. And put energy into it. For example, does doing this video really matter? Yes. Because I feel that by doing this, I will be showing people how to really live while they are here. And the value of this kind of information will outlive even my own temporary life. Only you can know what really matters to you. Start to live every thought and word and action in your life according to what matters.
When we take the second approach, we can look at anything we are doing, any activity, and we can change the way we look at it so that doing it can really matter and really have meaning. For example, I could decide that doing the dishes in the sink really does not matter. It is just something that has to be done. But what if I realized that doing the dishes takes pressure off of other people in the house and that frees them up to experience more things that they enjoy? Then doing the dishes does matter. Doing the dishes does have deep meaning.
Or for example, I may have a terrible customer support job at a cell phone company that I hate. I may tell myself that my job does not matter and that there is no meaning in what I am doing. But what if I realized that making someone’s phone work might just be the thing that makes it so they can have the talk that saves their relationship or what if making someone’s phone work is the reason that someone sees an amber alert and actually reports the whereabouts of a child that is stolen. Then, suddenly your job really matters.
Sometimes, we cannot change the fact that something we are putting our energy into does not really matter and does not hold deep meaning. But often we can change the meaning we assign to the things we are putting our energy into and as a result, we can make the things that seem to not matter, really matter. This is one of the deep meanings behind the old Buddhist sayings “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water and after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” This saying conveys that enlightenment does not change what you are doing in your life. It does not make you any less human. What does change however is that the way you see those simple activities, and the meaning you assign to doing them, changes the quality of doing them completely. Before, chopping wood and carrying water was a chore that had to be done… Something you had to mindlessly get out of the way before doing something that actually mattered to you. After, chopping wood and carrying water has great meaning.
A little tip is that you will notice that most of the things that really matter and most of the meaning that enriches your life are things that create and enhance your connection with other people. We need to be living our lives from both perspectives simultaneously. If we live with both the strategy of making sure that anything we are doing really matters and also of finding a way to look at the things we are doing in terms of why they really do matter, our life will be so rich with meaning and our life will matter so much, we will feel we have really and truly lived.