I think regardless of who we are, we’re all on our own search for meaning. There’s something that we’re looking to feel, something that we want to be, something that we convince ourselves we need.
And yet a lot of us spend the better part of our lives trying to figure out what that may be, only to find that we’re still searching. We’d give anything to be told because we just want to know already, but no one can tell us. They try, they want to, and often they will, but what does that accomplish? Nothing has ever meant less than an ignorant voice speaking on behalf of a powerless one.
If you disregard everything that I say, I only hope that you remember this: Your life is yours. It doesn’t matter if you want it or not. It is your responsibility. It is your privilege.
So I’m going to share with you how I feel meaning in my life. The secret is not to search or impose; it is simply to feel what you feel and go after what feels right.
It sounds very primitive and intuitive, doesn’t it? But that’s just it: That’s what we are. It doesn’t matter how fancy the clothes we wear or how spectacular the roof we put over our heads. We are primitive, intuitive, instinctual beings. And if we can’t own that, then we can never give ourselves what we want. We can never allow ourselves to feel that we’ve lived a meaningful life.
Okay, you ready for some advice?
This one’s the most counterintuitive of them all, but…
1. Accept that your feelings confuse you.
Some people say that a meaningful life has to feel good. They’re convinced that we have to be “at peace” with our feelings because the way we feel is supposed to indicate to us that our lives are, in fact, meaningful. As much as I want that to be true, I’ll tell you now that none of us function that way. If we feel good, it’s because we constantly fight for it. But that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to sort through all of our emotions until we find the ones we want—the ones that give us meaning.
No, no, feelings are irrational. They may be a pain in just about every place we can feel pain, but we can’t make sense of ourselves without them. My advice to you? Let your feelings do their thing. They’re allowed to be confused, and they’re allowed to confuse you. That’s the price of being born with emotions, and the only way to pay it off is with your understanding.
By that, I’m encouraging you to never give up or discredit your life because you can’t understand how you feel about it. Just accept it. Own it. And know that you’re not the only one. You are NEVER alone in the way you feel.
Just take me for example. I’ve got a lot of sub-feelings, but for the most part, I’m either happy or confused. When I’m happy, I live out the moment, and I let it embrace me. I focus on my joy, and the good news is, I’ve got a lot to be happy about. But then confusion makes an appearance, and my happiness becomes background noise. I think too much. I live too little. I’m so intent on understanding everything that’s going on and everything that I feel about whatever that I don’t even recognize the roadblock standing in my way: ME.
Thing is, I said that we fight to feel meaning in our lives, and I stand by that, but I never meant to imply that we ought to fight against our own feelings. We’re supposed to fight for them—even when we don’t want to feel them.
Confusing feelings are the most natural thing to exist. When you tell yourself that you should feel one way but you feel another, let it play out. Don’t fight it. Don’t deny it. Don’t ignore it or punish yourself for it. We’re human beings. If we never struggle to reconcile our thoughts with our feelings or our expectations with our realities, then there’s something wrong with us.
It’s NORMAL to feel all over the place. It’s NORMAL to be sad when you think you should be happy, to be scared when you think you should feel perfectly secure. It just means your feelings are trying to work themselves out. It will only serve you to listen to them and let them confuse you. Because that is how they guide you towards what feels right. The only way to clarity is through confusion—it forces you to be awake, to be present, to be in-tune with yourself so that you can live a life that’s as real as the feelings you feel.
2. Ask yourself what makes you feel good about your life.
Thing is, life’s short enough that you deserve to go after what you want.
Unless you have an evil agenda or you’re a criminal, don’t be afraid to take my advice on this. Living life is about loving how you feel. It’s not about what you have or don’t have. It’s not about what you accomplish or drive into the ground. It’s about how you want to feel about your life.
At this point, I don’t blame you if you’re questioning my obsession with feelings, because I obviously regard them very highly, and that’s the truth. But don’t I have good reason to? Whatever your life is, whoever you are, what do you have to judge your life other than your feelings? We measure love, happiness, satisfaction. We go off of our emotions. Whoever’s over there polishing their name plaque or counting Ben Franklin’s in their bank account simply didn’t get the memo.
If memory serves, “It’s the way we feel, yeah this is real.” These are lyrics to one of my favorite songs ever because meaning doesn’t just come from nowhere. It begins and ends with each and every meaningful feeling. Even the best moments that you remember in your life are built around your emotions. It’s not the images in your head; it’s the feelings you feel that make the memories. So what do you want?
Notice how I haven’t asked you what you want to be. That’s because it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be anything to know who you are and live a meaningful life. Heck, even if you are something, your life still might not be all that meaningful. How you define and present yourself is really for the sake of other people. It’s so that they can identify you, form their opinions about you, accept or reject you.
Don’t give yourself or your time to that, and don’t rely on it to give your life meaning because it will only take from you. The way you feel should set the tone for who you are. Never the other way around.
Now, I’m not saying it won’t take doing something or other to feel the way that you want to feel. I think we all want to make something of ourselves, and I think we’re all affected by something other than ourselves. We just have to be careful not to let that something rule us.
Always try to filter what you allow to affect you, but let yourself be influenced by your surroundings when they contribute to your life. You can’t separate or detach yourself from your world. If you guard your vulnerability too closely, you’ll only snuff out your own desire to feel.
However, you should always strive to purify your surroundings. Not everything deserves your feelings and energy, so think twice before giving them up. What you feel, no matter who or what played a part in making you feel that way, is always going to be yours. That might not give you all the control over it, but that will give you the chance to fight for yourself and what makes you feel good about your life.
3. Don’t try to define meaning.
Meaning is whatever it is. Let it be that way. Don’t try to define it, because when you do, you limit it, and maybe you even sabotage it. I can tell you with every certainty because I know this to be true. I’ve done it before. So many times. It’s like picking at scabs knowing they’ll leave scars, but you just don’t have it in you to stop until you see the scars for yourself, until you have no choice but to admit that you can’t take any of it back. That was exactly the game I played and lost.
So what is meaning? What’s it to me? What’s it to you? I don’t know exactly. But I can tell you what it is to everyone: It’s a sensation. It’s the way we feel and how much we love that feeling.
The only other thing that I can confidently say about meaning without defining it is this: Meaning is measured by impact—especially the impact that we cannot see, the impact that is unconditional. This may be the worse-kept secret in the world, but we all have to earn our privilege to understand it even though we already know.
And here’s another secret: meaningful is not easy to feel. No one said it would be. I have to fight for it every day to convince myself that it’s worth something. But it is. It’s worth my whole life.