We’re happiest when we fill our lives with things that bring us pleasure and meaning. I recently wrote about things that bring me pleasure. Today, I spent some time thinking about what provides me with meaning, a sense of purpose to my life as a whole.
I love working at a non-profit because I love doing mission-driven work. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the type who “drinks the Kool-aid”, but I just derive so much satisfaction from feeling like my work might, in the smallest way, help make the world a better place. It’s also amazing to be on a team of people who are passionate about those same goals.
I don’t think you have to work for a non-profit to feel that way. If anything, I think it’s more about finding the meaning in the job that you have, and focusing on that sense of purpose. I firmly believe that it’s possible to find a job you both like and derive meaning from.
Becoming a mother
At 30 weeks pregnant, I am already beginning to feel meaning from my soon-to-be role as a mother. It reminds me of when I used to have a garden; I’ve planted a seed and am now watching it grow, and soon it will become something real and tangible. I am excited and nervous to see where this journey takes us.
I do, however, feel it’s very important for my own happiness to continue to recognize myself during this transition, to pursue my hobbies, find fulfillment at work, and keep my relationship with my husband strong.
I used to volunteer regularly at The Marine Mammal Center. I was an education volunteer, which meant that I got to stand outside in the animal viewing area and tell people about the animals that they were seeing and answer any questions they had. I learned so much about marine mammals and about interpretation during my training, and it was so fun to learn again for learning’s sake.
I stopped volunteering there a while ago for various reasons — it’s really far from where I live, and they have so many volunteers there that it was hard to feel like I was adding value. I’d love to find a new place closer to home to volunteer once we settle into our new lives as parents a bit.
Do you volunteer? If so, I’d love to hear what kinds of things you do.
Teaching myself new skills
Whether it be learning Python programming from a textbook or training for a half marathon, there is absolutely nothing like the feeling I get from learning something new. It makes me feel capable and strong, in the best possible way. I’ve always been an independent person, and I love feeling like I can accomplish the things I set out to do.
Exercise brings me both pleasure and a sense of purpose. I’ve always loved sports — gravitating toward volleyball and swimming when I was growing up. But as an adult I’ve found (to my surprise, honestly) that I also just enjoy “working out”, especially if I set myself goals like completing a half marathon. Again, it makes me feel capable, but it also gives me something to continually strive toward.
Being in nature
For me, it’s hard to not feel that there’s a grander purpose in this life when I’m surrounded by nature. It just feeds my soul in a way I can’t describe.
One life goal I have is to hike the Appalachian Trail. If you haven’t read A Walk in the Woods, I highly recommend it. A hike like that can’t help but challenge you and change you, and I really hope that I can prioritize my life such that I make it happen someday.
I am also really excited to expose my child(ren) to the beautiful places outdoors. My parents took me and my sister to national parks all across the west growing up, and it was so formative for me. I hope I can provide my family with the wonder and joy I found in those experiences as a child.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been thinking more about what I want to achieve with this life. David Brooks recently discovered through an informal survey that “a surprising number of people found their purpose… by pursuing the small, happy life.” One reader said,
Everywhere, there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning.
Do you think that’s the trick, to change our perspective so that we actively look for meaning in everyday life, rather than seeking it out in big chunks at a time? What gives your life a sense of meaning?
(Photo credit: Lauren Hammond, Flickr)