A more meaningful life

Article published in Watkins Mind Body Spirit – Issue 37 (Spring 2014)

Watkins cover

What makes life worth living? What makes you get out of bed with a spring in your step? What do you really want? “Feed your addiction”, says the ad for a shopping mall in London as if shopping were the answer to all life’s questions. While it’s true that retail therapy can work wonders, giving us a shot of energy when we’re flagging, the new shoes and smartphone can soon lose their shine.

With our possession obsession, it’s all too easy to get distracted from the things that bring a deeper meaning to our lives. Many of us are yearning for something more, even if we’re not quite sure what that mysterious something is. We may just have a sense, especially once we’ve got the guy, the car, the house or the job, of, “Is this it?”

Some years ago, I worked with senior government leaders who were responsible for interviewing graduates to be the “fast track” leaders of the future. At the end of a long afternoon’s assessment, one interviewer came back into the office saying, “If I hear another candidate say, “I want to make a difference”, I’ll scream!”

But what if these idealistic twenty-somethings were actually onto something? Is it possible that, as well as wanting to create a good impression, they had a heartfelt desire for something more than just a job? Perhaps they were simply articulating a yearning that we all have deep down – for a life that had some significance.

Substantive conversation

There are many ways we can create a more meaningful life. One simple way is to change the conversations you have. Because talking with another person is such an day-to-day activity, making this one small change can have a huge impact.

Recent research in Psychological Science found that a happy life is one filled with reflective, substantive conversation and not just small talk. Greater well-being is related to spending less time alone and more time talking to others. In this study the happiest participants spent 70% more time talking than the unhappiest participants and had twice as many meaningful conversations.

Try this…

So don’t settle for being superficial in your interactions with others – take a risk to make a deeper connection. Have a go at asking these questions:

–       “What are you most passionate about these days?”

–       “If you could do one thing and not fail, what would it be?”

–       “When you’re 80 and look back on your life, what would you like to say?”

Next comes the most important, life-changing part of all. Listen. The biggest gift we can give another person is not a present but our presence. Our attention is the scarcest – and most precious – resource we have. When we take time to connect with someone, heart to heart, we give them something that they’ll never forget.

Often what people most need is not a good talking to, but a good listening to. When we truly listen, not to our own inner dialogue about the emails we need to write or the shopping we need to do, but to what’s going on for the other person, it transforms a relationship. The other person feels “met” by us and not so alone. This is the biggest gift we can give.

Poor relationships are one of the biggest sources of stress – and sadness – in our lives. Connecting with the people around you is a great way to make life have more meaning. Every conversation is an opportunity to break down a barrier, open up to a new idea or deepen a sense of fellowship and this is what life is really all about.

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