While it may be difficult to navigate the tidal waves that the world sends our way, I’ve found that the best way to stay on track is to live with intention; to live purposefully. Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, wrote: “Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how. Equally, the absence of why can make almost any how, unbearable”.
Finding reason and meaning to your life is not something reserved for those of us who are religious; instead, it is the answer to the very issue of human existence, which often plagues our minds when we go to sleep and may lead us to anxiety and depression. Multiple accounts from therapists have noted two traits that a certain type of patient has in common: Symptoms of depression and anxiety paired with a lack of purpose in their lives. This combination is not a coincidence, since several studies have confirmed that people with a strong sense of purpose tend to perform better on different measures of mental health.
Moreover, we all have been drawn to stories, whether in books or movies, where the protagonist fights and perseveres, striving to achieve a particular goal. We are attracted to noble ideals being chased after, we are glued to stories where all odds are against the hero and, somehow, they make it! Even in real life, when watching a football game and the underdog beats the champion, or when a terminally ill person makes a full recovery. These scenarios happen, and they can happen to us. So, why do we find ourselves being unable to battle the circumstances? Even when stacked against us, all challenges serve the purpose of making us stronger than we were, provided that we push through and overcome them.
While this may sound extraordinary or a little bit abstract, finding a reason to live is one of the most actionable tools that we can apply on a day to day basis to fight whatever comes our way. As with everything, it takes practice but we take the first steps to remember and believe wholeheartedly that our existence can have meaning. Waking up and deciding to apply this knowledge in our own lives is worthwhile, and can make a real difference. The day that you realize that there has got to be more to life than this (any current state you’re unhappy with) is the day you can begin to make a change.
First, realize that you’re not alone. For people struggling with depression, it may seem that we’ve sunken into a hole that is unreachable and unheard of by the rest of the human race, but realize that spiritual emptiness is a universal disease. Many people, from all walks of life, struggle to reach fulfillment. As we continue to read news about celebrity suicides, we realize that money, fame and even seemingly perfect family lives are not enough to keep us from going to that dark place in our heads. When we don’t cling hard enough to life and we fail to realize that there’s so much ahead for us, we begin to rationalize the thought of ending it all or merely surviving, but not living. You’re in as good a place as anyone to begin your journey towards living purposefully.
Second, live authentically. There are several constraints in regards to time, finances, family life, responsibilities that we end up using as excuses to stay painfully, but comfortably, in the place where we’re at. We consciously avoid making changes, even at a mental level, and we veer towards the unhealthy coping behaviors that we know too well. We may use alcohol, drugs, not getting out of bed, shopping or mindlessly consuming media to avoid being with ourselves. To avoid confronting the reality of the changes that we need to make in order to reach our potential.
Third, remember that we’re all here for a limited amount of time, so everything you do, try to do it with purpose and on purpose, so you are the master of your own existence. As human beings, it makes us happy to have a mission. Focus on the what you want to see in your life and, even if you don’t see a clear path, keep focusing on it and the how will come later.. A day is not wasted if you try to get to know yourself a little bit better or leave the world in a better state than you found it yesterday, even if it’s just your inner world. Remember, you have to nurture yourself in order to give back to others. You cannot give what you don’t have. It’s not selfish at all to take time for yourself. Ultimately, when you’re ready, the world around you will appreciate the work you did on your inner self and the healthier version of you.
You are unique. You have a purpose. Believe in yourself and what you can do to become better and, if you need a little head start, remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. Try practicing meditation, hygiene, get some nutrients in, take a little walk and, if possible, read a couple of pages of a really good book. Try something you have never done. Even if you fail at first, you will be a step closer than you were before you even started. Lastly, remember that your purpose can change and it’s okay. Your heart and soul will guide you and adjust the course as you go. Trust the process.