So often it’s the case we’re on a quest to find meaning in life. We assume there’s an inherent meaning and it’s our job to discover it. Alternatively we may look to others to tell us the meaning. And, if we don’t find it or learn it, we might assume it’s meaningless.
In DBT we teach clients to CREATE meaning, rather than search for inherent meaning. Generally, what’s meaningful to us is connected to our values—what we hold to be important in life. The relative importance of any one value may change over the course of our lives and with life circumstance.
One way to create meaning is to set and work on goals that reflect your values. Embarking on a new fitness or running program might reflect your value of health or wellness. Taking a meditation class might reflect your value of spirituality. Volunteering might reflect reflects your value of contributing to the greater good and the wellbeing of others. The process of setting and working on goals that reflect your values is part of “building the life worth living.” It’s the long-term strategy for creating positive emotions and decreasing vulnerability to negative ones.
Creating meaning can help us cope with painful experiences. Experiences of deprivation can help us clarify our values—what’s important, and what’s unimportant. For example, loss of social contact can highlight the value we place on community and relationships. By giving meaning to painful experiences they are no longer viewed as pointless, but opportunities to learn. A challenging situation may teach us things about ourselves or our lives, e.g., we’re stronger than we thought.
SO the next time you find yourself on a search for meaning, stop and choose to create it. You may find you feel more empowered and life becomes more rewarding.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.