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A Life Worth Living: How to Find and Follow Your Meaning

If you’d like to know how to decrease depression, alleviate anxiety, and live an all-around better life, there is a simple answer.

The good news, too, is that it doesn’t entail any kind of medication, money, or treatment modalities. Simply put, it’s about making decisions based on what’s truly meaningful; essentially what makes both your inner world and the outer world a better place.

Similar to discovering your mission and following your passion, consciously pursuing your own personal meaning can enrich your life in ways you hadn’t thought possible. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you do for a living, seeking your meaning often heals both yourself and others.  

A poignant example of creating your own meaning is how Candy Lightner reacted to the senseless loss of her thirteen-year-old daughter, Cari. While walking to a carnival with her friend, Cari was struck by a car, knocked out of her shoes, and thrown 125 feet. Cari died soon after the accident.

Ms. Lightner was informed that the driver, who was intoxicated, had been arrested a short time earlier for another drunk driving offense. However, officers told Lightner that this driver would most likely receive no lasting punishment for essentially murdering her daughter.

Soon after, Lightner channeled her anger and sorrow into something that could give her life meaning; she quit her job and used her savings to launch M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). A determined, and tireless fighter, Lightner lectured and lobbied across the country, helping to pass anti-drunk driving legislation — that to this day, continues to save lives.  

Of course, Lightner’s work will never bring her beloved daughter back. But like so many other people who decide to create a pathway of meaning and hope — no matter how senseless and devastating their loss — there’s a larger capacity to continue on with an increased sense of purpose and… an empowered sense of self that can never be shaken.

Your path to meaning may not be born of such devastation as Lightener’s, yet we all endure disappointments, setbacks, and grief. Finding and practicing your meaning often stems from personal history, values, and the desire to become an all-around better person.

Take a look around. There are everyday heroes that heed their own personal meaning on daily basis: the dad who decides to become a thousand-fold-more thoughtful and loving parent than his own cold, critical father had been; the teacher who continues to motivate even her toughest of students because she had grown up with a learning disability; the cashier at your local supermarket who exudes warmth and friendship to all in reaction to the loneliness that had devastated her developmentally disabled aunt.   

Basing our choices on what truly matters reminds us that we are able to tap into our capacity to help both ourselves and others, even if fleeting emotions such as happiness wanes, our physical health declines, or our material wealth plummets. This, in turn, helps to decrease overall depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness.  

It’s a practice that can be consciously followed in both big and small ways, with both lifelong goals and everyday choices in mind.

Like Lightner, some people may take the most devastating event in their lives and decide to either work in a professional realm or volunteer their time in order to make a positive change. Other people may incorporate their own values within the job or role (such as parent, friend, or mentor) they already have in order to make the world a better place. Still others may decide to share their own physical, emotional, or mental health issues in a public forum in order to educate — and help others know that they’re not alone.

We all have the ability to bring meaning into our everyday lives by following through on such simple actions as: checking in on an elderly neighbor, weekly visits with a grieving friend, or simply showing compassion to both friends and strangers.

It all adds up, no matter where we live, who we are, what we do. Finding and following our meaning can help us all lead a life worth living.

A Life Worth Living: How to Find and Follow Your Meaning

Tracy Shawn, MA

Author and speaker Tracy Shawn lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her debut novel, The Grace of Crows (Cherokee McGhee, 2013), won awards for Indie fiction, including the 2013 Jack Eadon Award for Best Book in Contemporary Drama and Second Place for General Fiction from Reader Views. She’s written numerous articles for print and online publications. Ms. Shawn has currently finished her second novel and is now working on her third. You can visit her website at: www.tracyshawn.com.


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APA Reference
Shawn, T. (2019). A Life Worth Living: How to Find and Follow Your Meaning. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/a-life-worth-living-how-to-find-and-follow-your-meaning/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Feb 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Feb 2019
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