Meaning and Purpose
Having meaning in life, and living a purposeful life seem very adult topics to discuss. They seem to be something we look to in the future, when we are ‘proper’ grown-ups.
However, meaning in life is something we are always making each day in every new moment and experience we gain. Purpose is something that we can have now, it is active. We can find purpose in lots of things and not just one.
‘Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of
meaning and purpose.’ Viktor Frankl
Meaning and purpose come from being authentic and honest with ourselves and what we desire without fear. So, in order to have meaning and purpose at any age we need to be true to ourselves and build a positive picture of our lives.
How can we do this with our children and students? Or how can you do this for yourself at any age?
Try this: We are constantly meaning making. Each experience we have helps us create more meaning. You can use strengths of character to build a confident and positive meaning of who they or you are. We covered strengths back in April. Or try this. Get your children or students to complete this sentence. ‘I matter because…’
When we have a reason to matter this gives us our meaning. It can be, I matter because I am reliable to my friends. I matter because I am determined to complete my schoolwork. There can also be reasons we matter outside of our relationships and school life. Having a strong and positive meaning can help us also realise our purpose.
Try this: Complete this sentence… ‘My purpose is to…’ And remember you do not have to just have one purpose. It is not based in the future it is now and it is active. For example, my purpose is to help others, or my purpose is to stand up for animals or the environment. Our purpose can grow and change with us as we change as people. Any positive purpose is great for our wellbeing.
Our values as a person play a great part in our meaning and purpose as they do in our goals from last month. If you want to know more about values look through our social media posts on the topic. Goals set, that align with our values and lead us to greater meaning in life and toward our purpose are goals which will bring great joy indeed, and not just in the outcome but in the journey too.
As always give this a try and be patient. Wellbeing is a lifestyle not just an hour of thought once a month or sporadically when things feel wrong. What we practise grows stronger as we grow and change as people.
Get curious and keep setting those goals…
Do you like learning new things? Quite often when I ask children and teenagers (sometimes the adults too) they say NO. In fact, the majority of the time, the answer is no.
I think this is because we often think of learning as school. We start to believe we can only learn via classrooms and teachers.
There are however lots of ways to learn and places in which to gather knowledge. From parents, friends, visiting new places for example. Humans are naturally curious and will often investigate new things. This is a way of learning.
Another way of gaining knowledge is through the goals we set ourselves. We can have goals that tick over each day. Daily goals such as leaving the house on time, eating well or getting a certain amount of exercise. We can also have big top-level goals that need lots of grit and determination. These can be things like wanting to tackle a certain career path or linked to your passions and values.
Write down as many of your goals as you can think of… Use your character strengths to help you. Stay Curious and Open-Minded.
Have a look at your goals and think about where learning comes in…
Sometimes we can pick goals and just look for the end result but, there is often a long journey to reaching goals. Take a look at the stories of many well-known people, J.K Rowling, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney. All these people faced setbacks on the way to their top-level goals. These setbacks are common for all goals, sometimes even the little daily ones. They are also opportunities to learn. When you look at your goals are you looking to succeed every time or are you looking to master a skill or be better than you were before?
Aiming to learn and be better than we were before can help with our motivation and determination to keep going with the goal. This is needed even more when the goal is a career or life goal that will take time to get to. Ask parents, teachers, grandparents how long it took to reach their goals. You may be surprised that many may still not have reached them.
Take another look at your goals. Think about the skills you can master on the way to them. For example; if you want to be an amazing pianist break the main goal down into smaller goals, mastering different skills along the way. Always aiming to be better than you were before.
Having goals and continuing to learn are very important parts of our wellbeing and happiness. Learning increases our confidence and gives a warm feeling as we accomplish something. Having goals can increase our sense of meaning and purpose and this all works to build resilience.
As always remember that any part of our wellbeing is a daily practice. What we practise grows stronger as we grow and change as people.
It is always OK to feel….
Emotions can be uncomfortable. There are many more of them that are uncomfortable than comfortable. For every emotion that we love to feel, such as joy there are around five emotions that we don’t usually like such as shame, fear, anxious, jealous and anger.
Often people like to tell me that feelings that make them uncomfortable are negative. The ones that make us feel good are positive. There are no good or bad feelings, we feel for a reason. If you are frustrated there is usually a reason why. If we can sort this out, then the frustration will pass. The same goes for feeling guilt. Imagine if no-one ever felt guilty. We would probably all do some horrible things if there were no feelings in place to stop us.
Other ways of getting over feelings that make us feel uncomfortable is to bottle them up and try not to feel them. Have you ever done this? Maybe you try to distract yourself with something else or bury your head in schoolwork or a TV series. This means that we can keep bottling things up inside until we get overwhelmed or explode.
When you start to feel something name it. What emotion are you feeling? Here is a list of emotion words to help you…
Joy, Sad, Guilt, Regret, Shame, Humiliation, Fear, Frustration, Excitement, Belonging, Blame, Jealous, Anger, Anxious, Vulnerability, Love, Curious, Disgust, Embarrassment, Empathy, Gratitude, Grief, Hurt, Judgement, Lonely, Overwhelmed, Surprised, Worried.
Once you have named what you are feeling, get curious about it. Even the feelings that feel good. Why are you feeling it? Where in the body do you feel it? What has caused the feeling? What is this feeling telling me right now?
Remember to do the above with your comfortable feelings too!
The above is not easy to do, especially if you have become good at practicing ‘not’ feeling things. It can feel dark and scary. It can feel like you may get stuck feeling it forever. Emotions pass. They come and go. How many different things can you feel in one day? Try writing them down some time. So far today I have felt…. Happy, tired, bored, excited, nervous, confused, loved, worried, anxious, frustrated, angry, sad…. And that’s just in a few hours.
Now you know all the things you have felt in one day, LET IT GO!
Remember as always, these exercises are a practice. What we practice grows stronger as we grow and change as people. Becoming more emotionally aware is a constant practice throughout life. Give it all a try and keep going. xxx
Do you connect with others face to face in person, or do you prefer to do it from a distance such as through a smartphone and social media?
Many of us now connect via technology, and this is not just a dig at young people, adults are just as bad.
On average adults are spending up to one day a week on their smart phones. Hours change depending on what survey you look at with 11 hours per day being the highest I could find. Now we use our technology for all sorts of things, reading, watching, researching and being ‘social’. This way of being social is at a distance and not the sort of connection we are made for. We have survived as humans because we build strong relationships as groups.
Why do we do this? Well connection can be difficult. As humans our relationships with others can be messy, emotional and confusing. We will talk more about emotions next month, but we generally don’t enjoy these confusing and difficult sensations of connecting with others. Do they like me, don’t they? Did I say too many weird things or was I being cool enough? Did they notice that weird snort when they made me laugh or that huge spot I have on my chin?! Online or ‘social from a distance’ we can filter ourselves. Face to face we have just our full wonderful realistic selves to bring to the connection.
When we are younger, we develop skills in connection and learn to notice body language and facial expressions of the person we are looking at. This is taken away when all we have are words on a screen. Now connection can be with family, friends and loved ones but don’t forget we can connect with those people nearby in our towns and cities. We gain a sense of belonging when we connect with the people who work in our local shop or neighbours and teachers.
How many hours a week do you spend interacting with people face to face? Is there a way you could increase this? Technology is not bad; I love keeping in touch with friends who have moved far away but we always need to try and find a balance between all the ways there are to connect.
You know that little lovely luscious feeling you get when your phone pings with a text or notification? That is because we feel happy that someone has contacted us. The same happens when we have a positive face to face connection with another person.
Try this: Connect with someone else just by smiling. It doesn’t matter who they are just smile. Instead of looking at your phone to escape the awkwardness of walking past people, keep your head high and smile. See how many you can get to smile back. You could always start a competition with friends on how many people you can get to smile at you, extra points for a good morning or hello.
Try this: Feeling a little braver after smiling? Connect with others by using eye contact. We can often not quite look people in the eye, or just give a very quick glance for milliseconds. Try looking in a friend or family members eyes for 1 minute. Its not a staring competition so you can blink 😉
Remember to give things a try a few times and see how you get on. Always stay open to new ideas and think about how they make you feel. We are always growing and changing as people. xx
Show your Strength each day…
What are you naturally amazing at? I am not talking about things at school such as being good at Math or Sport, English or Languages. I am talking about the unique individual you.
When I run classes, I sadly often get the answer of ‘nothing’ or ‘I don’t know.’ The better news is that once they have left a class, they have an idea of what they are good at and what makes them uniquely them.
We can often focus on what we are not good at and where we struggle. The thing is if we focus on what we are good at and where we thrive, we can deal with where we struggle with greater ease. You must know yourself, its hard to stay motivated on something when we find it hard and we don’t feel good about ourselves.
What makes you, you is your personality and strengths of character. The strengths I am talking about are as follows….
Love, honesty, judgement (as in weighing up both sides before making a judgement), love of learning, humour, creativity, curiosity, fairness, humility (modesty), teamwork, leadership, appreciation of beauty and excellence (this is loving all things beautiful and recognising others talents), kindness, gratitude, spirituality (a belief in a higher meaning or purpose), prudence (being sensible or careful), perseverance, bravery, social intelligence, perspective, hope, forgiveness, zest (lots of energy for life), self-regulation (self-control).
We have all of these strengths, every single one. Some we may use more than others, and some may come more naturally to us, but they are all there. Sometimes we just need to activate them.
Choose one strength from the list that you think you use each day; it may even be something that you do very naturally without thinking.
Now write down how you use this strength. Once you have done that, write down how you could use it differently each day. Really think outside the box with this one. For example, if creativity is a top strength, you don’t have to start singing, dancing and drawing every day. You can be more creative with your thoughts and try thinking about things in a different way.
Now you have one of your top strengths sorted, keep practicing it. Also see if you can spot other people using the same strength as you. Compliment them on it.
Remember as always, what we practice grows stronger as we grow and change as people. So keep going and giving new things a try.
Self-care, the road to independence:
Welcome to the teenage years. The moment where you can start taking care of yourself rather than relying on parents or guardians to do it for you. Does that sound a little harsh or a little daunting?
Don’t worry, it isn’t either. I am sure you are crying out for more independence and self-care is one way you can achieve this.
Now physical self-care I am sure you already do. We wash, brush our teeth, keep our clothes clean and hair brushed. Is this all there is to self-care? Some say it is doing what feels good at the time. Maybe a relaxing bath, some time with friends or a day out shopping. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, self-care is actually doing all those little slightly boring things consistently, so we stay feeling well in ourselves. It is not necessarily always good for you to just do fun things.
I am talking exercise, nutrition, sleep and emotional hygiene. Self-care requires a lot of self-control and perseverance.
How can we have more self-control and keep going?
For self-control try to give yourself small daily goals that lead to a bigger overall goal. If it’s to get a better night sleep, start going to bed slightly earlier each night and removing distractions. Doing this in small steps will make the overall goal simpler. To boost your perseverance, think of something you once found really difficult but eventually achieved, how did you do it and how could this help you now? Treat the self-care task ahead of you in the same way. If it is to get more exercise don’t give up the minute you have a bad day. Keep going.
Now I am sure you all know how to exercise and eat well. There is a huge amount of info out there and some good habits now will definitely help you in the future. Take it from an older person who must kick her own butt up the gym all the time to try and stay fit because she didn’t do it in her younger years!
Now at the risk of sounding like a nag, sleep is so important to self-care. You are not functioning properly if you are sleep deprived (and lots of people are, around half of adults do not get enough sleep). You should be getting a good 8-10 hours a night. Sleep helps you regulate your emotions better during the day and emotional hygiene is also an important part of self-care and one we often forget about.
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by your emotions and unsure of how to cope with them? You are not alone. Emotions come and go throughout the day. Lots of them, from happiness to sadness, anger to excitement, feeling anxious to feeling calm. We must learn to accept them and notice what they want from us. After all, they are usually there for a reason. They are letting us know we are enjoying something or that we need to stop doing something. They can be letting us know that we cared about something or that we didn’t.
How can you start to accept your emotions more?
Start to notice what happens in your body when your emotions are becoming uncomfortable. This awareness will help you realise when emotions are starting to arise before you are overwhelmed by them. Where is it in your body and what is it called? For example, for me I can feel the heat rising to my face, slowly creeping there and know it is embarrassment. I can feel my jaw starting to tense, feel like my teeth are starting to become painful, and I know it is stress caused by frustration. Give this a go yourself and start to become more aware of your emotions.
Self-care is something that can feel tedious, but it is very worth it in the long term. It is keeping ourselves well overall, not just feeling good in the moment. Remember as always to keep practicing. It will get easier and grow stronger as we all grow as people. xxx
Do you love yourself?
Self-Love makes us feel good, but it also has other benefits. It has been shown to help us cope better with depression as well as bringing us higher motivation and optimism.
This is all great, I mean who doesn’t want to happier more motivated and optimistic about the future, right? But…. what is self-love and how do we achieve it?
Self- Love is a feeling of being worthy, valuable and loveable. We know deep within ourselves that we are important and worthy of love from our fellow humans. Self-love can also be called self-worth. It is not confidence although an increase in confidence can come from loving yourself more, confidence can also be present where self-love is not.
Ask yourself these questions and answer them as honestly as you can….
• ‘Do you feel you are a valuable member of your community?’ (this can be school, college, family, the wider community)
• ‘Do you feel like you deserve to be loved?’
• ‘Do you like yourself?’
If you have answered a very definite yes to these questions, then you likely love yourself and accept yourself the way you are. If you weren’t sure about your answers or answered no then it would be great to do a little work on your self-love. Even if you do love yourself already there is no harm in keeping the practice up. In fact, I would encourage anyone to practice, as with most things, if we practice them, they get stronger.
I think most people at different points in life need to take care of what they think and feel of themselves. Life can deal us hard moments along the way, and we need to keep up with the self-love before these happen, so we are on top of these moments.
Most importantly self-love is something we can work on and improve within ourselves and as always, I have some handy tips below. Give these a try and see how you get on.
Three parts to more self-love;
Self-Kindness – Talk to yourself with kindness. If you are struggling with something, maybe you made a mistake or maybe there is something about yourself you are not able to accept right now talk to yourself kindly about it. Imagine you are speaking to your best friend. What would you say to them? Do this for yourself.
For example: I always told myself ‘you are too weird to be likeable’. Not helpful. Now if that was a friend telling me this I would say. ‘You are amazing and think in unique ways and lots of people like you for that. Not everyone will like you. Focus on those that do.’ Now I practices saying this to myself.
Common Humanity – this is that feeling of ‘It’s not just me’. Knowing that when we are in pain, others have felt pain also. We are not alone in our experience because it is a shared human experience. Just like embarrassment, shame, sadness, guilt, regret. Share your worries with others who deserve to hear your story. Someone you trust that has your best interests at heart. Look for stories from others in the public eye who have experienced the same feelings as you.
For example: Done something silly? Made a mistake? Said something you shouldn’t? Got upset or angry at someone? We have all been there and done it. I once had a major rant about someone, and they were stood right behind me. I felt guilty, like the worst human in the world and regret my actions. Oh, and there is more, I mean the list could go on and it will most definitely get longer as I continue to age. Others have done it too and if I can say sorry, make up for it, not do it again and get help when I need it by sharing my story then that is a good thing.
Mindfulness – become more mindful and aware of how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment, but this doesn’t just have to be what is around you, it can be what is going on inside you too. Try writing down in any moment exactly how you feel, where in the body you are feeling this and what your reactions to this could be.
For example: I have felt all these emotions in just a day….happy, sad, fearful, confused, excited, hopeful, shy, tired, anxious, angry, annoyed, frustrated, loved, peace, bored….. I could go on. We all feel. What causes these feelings in each of us may be different, but others will be feeling the same and have felt the same, even your parents! Try writing down everything you have felt and ask others to do the same. How many feelings have you in common?
Remember this is a work in progress, we won’t get it right all the time, but we can learn to accept, understand and love ourselves bit by bit if we keep going xxx
Flourishing Teens in 2019
We are going to take 12 steps to Happiness over the next 12 months following positive psychology interventions and ideas. These ideas are all backed by research and can help you flourish.
We are starting January with Mindfulness. Mindfulness is ‘non-judgemental awareness of the present moment’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2013), but what does this mean and how do we practice it?
- Step 1 – Become more aware and grounded in the present moment. What is real and happening right now? Often our minds can wander off into the future or can dwell in the past and in doing this we miss the present.
- Really focus on the breath as it flows in and out. Count these breaths from 1 to 10. If you lose your way at any point then just stop, bring the mind back and start from 1 again. Repeat this until you feel present and aware of the moment you are in.
Mindfulness has been shown to help relieve mind-wandering (Mrazek et al, 2017), Stress (Kabat-Zinn, 2013), anxiety and depression (Felver, Celis-de Hoyos, Tezanos & Singh, 2015) but, is not just about breathing deeply and being present.
- Step 2: Mindfulness is also about acceptance of the present moment and how we respond to those things we cannot control. Acceptance does not mean we let others treat us badly. It is about understanding that we cannot change another’s behaviour, we can only change our response to the behaviour.
Try this: Copy and fill out this graphic with things you can control and the things you can’t. Reflect on how much time you spend on things that are out of your control. Spend more time on the things you can control and be kind to yourself. We all struggle with our thoughts sometimes and we need to be non-judgemental of ourselves, not just others.
- Step 3: Add mindfulness to your daily life. Don’t wait for the stress to kick in and then think about being present. Don’t wait for the perfect quiet undisturbed moment in your day to sit quietly and meditate. Add it to your life bit by bit. It is a practice. Like a muscle it will strengthen if used.
Try these ideas in your daily life:
Next month we will be looking at self-love, this brings together mindfulness ideas of being non-judgemental as well as self-compassion. Keep up your mindfulness practice. If you miss a day, don’t worry, be kind and pick the practice back up again when you can.