Life feels more meaningful when it reflects your values.
If you value knowledge, you’re more likely to feel satisfied with life when you’re actively learning, whether it’s studying a foreign language, or exploring a country you’ve never visited before. If you value fitness, you probably feel more engaged and alive when you’re training than when you’re sitting on the couch binge watching Netflix.
But sometimes we can become overly focused on one value to the exclusion of all others. And, when this value is not currently reflected in our life the particular way we want it to be, it may feel like our life is meaningless. For example, someone who values relationships may fixate on having a committed romantic relationship and see it as the only way to have meaning in life. The problem with this is that, unlike other goals we set for ourselves, the timetable for a connection to happen is not entirely under our control. The most we can do is create the conditions that make it possible, e.g. date, meet like-minded people by pursuing your interests. Which can be frustrating. But when we insist there can be only one source of meaning in our lives, we’re pretty much guaranteeing it will feel meaningless.
One way to decrease feelings of meaninglessness in life is to diversify the values you’re working on. When it seems like you’re at an impasse with one value, shift your focus to other things that are important to you and ways to have them better reflected in your life. For example, if you’re injured and can’t work on physical fitness goals, shift to working on another value like creativity by taking a painting or dance class.
Another way to decrease meaninglessness is to diversify the goals you set to reflect any one value. Think about all the different ways one value can be present in your life. So, if you value relationships, expand your focus to include building your social circle and community to create meaning. Think about your values more broadly. Fitness goals, for example, may reflect a broader value of health. This means you can create meaning by setting other types of health goals, like developing a meditation practice or eating better.
These strategies can buffer the impact of what you feel is missing in your life when your progress on other goals is stalled. So, the next time you feel life is meaningless try diversifying your values.
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.