You want to live a meaningful life. Otherwise, what’s the point of your effort and dedication? Crafting a life that matters acknowledges your willingness to overcome obstacles to reach a significant need or desire. Especially when it’s really hard.
In The Power of Meaning, journalist Emily Esfahani Smith explores what’s central to people seeking meaning in their lives. She discovers people find meaning in life through four pillars:
- Belonging: Many people count their relationships as the most meaningful part of their lives, even when those relationships are challenging.
- Purpose: Activities with more meaning reflect our values and serve the greater good.
- Storytelling: People who describe their lives as meaningful tend to have stories where they overcame something negative and were better for it.
- Transcendence: Experiences that fill us with awe or wonder decrease our self-focus and lead us to engage in more generous, helpful behavior.
When you think of the meaningful like that you seek, does it include each pillar of meaning? Does one of the pillars seem more challenging than another?
A Meaningful Life is a Stressful Life
Research demonstrates that happy lives are not stress-free nor do stress-free lives guarantee happiness. Even though most people view stress as harmful, higher levels of stress seem to accompany the things we want the most: love, health, and satisfaction with our lives.
When was the last time you had to push a boulder up the mountain like Sisyphus to reach a better set of circumstances? I’m pushing my coaching business up the mountainside right now. It’s not easy but so worthwhile and something I really want so that I help more professionals redefine how to work, parent, and achieve financial freedom.
Unleashing stress allows you to leverage its positive effects so that you spend more time at peak performance in your zone of healthy stress. The zone where you’re happier, healthier, and more productive at work.
You can build a meaningful life by unleashing your stress when you use it as an expression of your values, evidence of engagement, and an opportunity for significant growth.
Expression of Your Values
One way to help find meaning in stress is to connect it to your values. This transforms how you think about stressful circumstances and your ability to cope.
Research shows that remembering your values when you feel stressed can help transform the stress from something that is happening against your will and outside your control to something that invites you to honor and deepen your priorities.
My coaching business expresses many of my values. For example, helping others. Learning something new. Pushing myself to overcome hard challenges. And many more.
Evidence of Engagement
When I think of the most painful circumstances in my life, the stress that resulted from the pain confirms that whatever I lost really mattered. “Rather than being a sign that something is wrong with your life, feeling stressed can be a barometer for how engaged you are in activities and relationships that are personally meaningful,” writes Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress.
Our ability to find meaning in our lives helps us stay motivated in the face of significant challenges and helps us make sense of our suffering.
The stress from working hard on my business is one way I know that serving as a work-life rebalance coach is my life purpose. I spend most of my time in the zone of healthy stress with more moments at peak performance than I’ve had in other jobs. Without a doubt, I am engaged 😊
Opportunity for Significant Growth
Excessive stress pushes you out of your comfort zone. The stress calls upon you to push through difficult circumstances whether you’ve walked the path before, or it’s the first time.
You can leverage the stress to turn the breakdown into a breakthrough by trying harder or trying a different strategy.
Responding to the stress with more effort or a different strategy increases your confidence that you can cope with excessive stress in the future. And, the DHEA (the good stress hormone) released from your body’s stress response makes your brain more resilient by increasing the neuroplasticity of your brain.
Taking the time to fully experience the discomfort caused by the stress provides an opportunity to reflect on your strengths and rewrite your story.
Becoming an entrepreneur is rich with opportunities to grow. Sometimes it’s finding the right words to clearly communicate. Often, it’s trying to figure out the technology. Regardless of the lesson, going after my life’s purpose develops new knowledge, skills, behaviors. As a result, my belief in myself grows too.
Wrapping It Up
You can’t always control your stress levels. But you can aim to control your response. One way is to give your stress some time and space so it can express your values, provide evidence of engagement, and serve as a catalyst for growth.
By unleashing your stress in these ways, you allow it to help build your meaningful life.
- Smith, E. E. (2017) The Power of Meaning. Portland, OR: Broadway Books.
- McGonigal, K. (2015). The Upside of Stress. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.