Saturday, September 12, 2020

Finding Meaning

The following are suggestions to explore ways of finding meaning during this difficult—but temporary —experience of the pandemic:

Focus on the present moment. At this moment, everything is fine; nothing bad is happening to you.  You’re not going hungry.  You have shelter. You’re healthy. List the things around you.  Notice what you see, hear, smell, and taste at this moment.

Express gratitude.  Each day, notice three things you are grateful for.  Pay attention to the little things:  seeing a hummingbird, the taste of a piece of chocolate, a sunny day.

Try to learn something new. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to do, an instrument you’d like to play, or a language you’d like to speak?

Help others.  You can make financial donations, deliver food to the needy, send cards to health care workers, or make calls to lonely friends and neighbors.

Are there new activities you could try to give your life meaning?

Choose three activities from the list above that you will do over the next week to create meaning in your life.

You may also want to consider what you would like to continue doing once the pandemic is over. Why does that feel important?

Consider the following:

·      Volunteering one’s time;

·      Giving money to someone in need;

·      Writing out one’s future goals;

·      Expressing gratitude for another’s actions, either written or verbal;

·      Carefully listening to another’s point of view;

·      Confiding in someone about something that is of personal importance; and

·      Persevering valued goals in spite of obstacles.

Redefining Meaning through Challenging Times

by Barbra Danin

Eudaemonia  - eu" ("good") and "daim┼Źn" ("spirit"),a life of activity governed by reason

Ancient Greek philosophers had the leisure to contemplate life’s meaning and engaged in many debates over what determines a good life. According to Aristotle, striving for happiness should not be man’s highest priority; rather, he wrote that one should strive for Eudaimonia, or fulfillment through the process of doing what is purposeful and worthwhile to each individual. This involves well intended action through knowledge that is acquired throughout life experience.

Since the quarantine, many of us find ourselves thinking about our lives in ways we may not have previously had the time or interest in doing. Trends are shifting rapidly as we reevaluate our values and focus more on what holds meaning and priority – Be that quality time with friends and family, healthy living and home cooked meals, discovering nature, creative ventures, or pursuing professional aspirations.

For some, living in small spaces in dense urban areas is no longer attractive, and home sales are spiking in suburban areas with larger properties. Fashion trends are shifting dramatically, with sales of jeans plummeting and leisure wear and Birkenstocks purchases soaring. Walmart’s biggest sellers are self-grooming devices, while lipstick sales have flattened and Amazon’s stock of bread and pasta makers is low. At the same time, fear and anxiety is rising as we struggle with the negative impact of social isolation and uncertainty over what the future holds.

As we continue to face the changing circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic, how can we assign meaning to these times and respond to the challenges of the moment?  Can we draw from the wisdom of those who experienced adversity in the past? Victor Frankl offers both practical actions and philosophical insight in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.  During his interment at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, Frankl, a psychiatrist, keenly observed his and fellow prisoners’ psychological and behavioral evolution as they lived through the horrors of their imprisonment. He was curious as to how they were coping during that challenging time and what seemed useful to them in efforts to survive.  He noted that those who found resilience appeared to assign their own personal meaning to their experience:

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us…….our answers must consist……………in right action and in right conduct…taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and fulfill the tasks it constantly sets for each individual. 

He published the book Man’s Search for Meaning after his liberation. The book presents his theory of Logo therapy (logos=moving), a treatment approach with focus on the future, rather than the past.  Echoing the theory of Eudaimonia, he contends that a search for meaning is the primary motivator of life, and that each of us must continually redefine our meaning for the moment in which we are living, with an emphasis on work and correct action, connecting with others, and accepting circumstances over which we have no control.

For Frankel, what energized him were thoughts of his wife, plans to publish his book, fantasies of a favorite meal…… He observed that those inmates who tried to assign meaning to the experience at the time were able to better tolerate the suffering they underwent than those who became hopeless.

As summer ends and we enter the fall season, we may consider this time as an opportunity to look inward and explore and challenge long held values and beliefs, and to revisit our personal hopes and aspirations towards a life of meaning and purpose for now and for the future.

Barbra Danin, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Art Therapist, and Certified EMDR Therapist.  She provides individual, couples, and family therapy.  Her specialties include treating children with anxiety, trauma, and behavioral issues – and empowering parents with concrete tools for lasting change. Contact her at (314) 477-8585 or barbradanin@barbradanin.com. Learn more at her website at www.barbradanin.com.