“Take life as you find it, but don’t leave it that way. Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” – William E. Channing
It has been a long two years since the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing us all to develop the greatest cognitive, social, and emotional flexibility of our lives. While many of us have battled anxiety that has touched every aspect of our personal and professional lives, we are also offered the opportunity to reflect upon the positive outcomes and growth realized from our response to this unprecedented challenge. While stress is often seen through a negative lens, it also embodies the inevitable factors of transformation and personal growth. Living through such a challenging time can lead to a new view of oneself, the world around us, and how we relate to others. We can reflect upon relationships, self-esteem, and gratitude as we turn toward compassion and locate a deeper inner wisdom. Discovering a greater sense of meaning can be at the heart of our renewed well-being.
This growth experience allows us to find new appreciation of life, think through new possibilities, and find our personal strengths. The creation of meaning in these areas can be sometimes hard to grasp and trying to simply move toward happiness can be a useless pursuit without some self-exploration and identification of what makes our time purposeful.
How: Identify ideas and behaviors that give you satisfaction and inspiration to wake up in the morning and enjoy your day. Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946) suggests doing the following to find meaning:
- Experience reality by interacting authentically with the environment and with others.
- Give something back to the world through creativity and self-expression.
- Change your attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance that you cannot change.
Questions: What were you passionate about as a child? If you didn’t have a job, how would you choose to fill your time? What makes you forget about the world around you? Who do you spend time with and what do you talk about? If you had a dream, could you make it happen? What issues do you hold close to your heart?
Wellbeing is experienced in many areas of our lives, including the physical, social, psychological, environmental, intellectual, occupational, and financial. However, it is how we create meaning in these areas that allows us to positively grow and change after chaotic and difficult times. Optimistically, the “new” normal we are all moving towards will include a deeper examination of personal well-being. This can be supported by our desire to re-examine our values, look for opportunities for growth, and create clearer meaning in our day-to-day lives.
“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Kelly Gilrain, PhD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She is Director of Psychological Services and Director of Behavioral Medicine in the Division of Behavioral Medicine at Cooper University Health Care; and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.