“Don’t miss all the beautiful colors of the rainbow looking for that pot of gold.” ~Unknown
It's frustrating, isn't it?
Stumbling through life without a clear sense of direction. Wondering day after day if it's ever going to get better.
After all, perpetual joy and a meaningful life are only for the rich and famous. The idea of fulfilment seems so far-fetched given the mundaneness of an ordinary day.
But you know that anything is possible, right?
Could it be that with a little thought, the day will come when you'll enjoy the colors of the rainbow, regardless of whether you've reached your pot of gold or not?
In Search of Material Riches
I come from an underprivileged background. Growing up, the only thing I could think of that would make me happy was to be rich. While I frequently heard the saying, “Money doesn’t make you happy,” I dismissed its true message because I believed I needed stuff to live comfortably.
So I spent most of my life chasing this fantasy, never actually getting to a point of contentment. In my adulthood, I was no longer destitute, but I was still after that illusion.
Then, a few years ago I had a classic case of burnout and exhaustion. I didn't know where I was going any longer, life tasted bland, and the future seemed pointless. All I could do was think about the woman I knew I was deep down, the woman full of hopes and aspirations to make a difference.
I was desperate to change my situation.
So the quest truly began. To repair my broken self, I indulged in self-help books, visited the professionals, and overlaid positive mantras in my brain in the hopes of waking up one morning as a new person.
But a gaping black hole was still in my soul, waiting to be filled with something more meaningful.
Getting Struck by Lightning
After months of searching for the Holy Grail, someone planted an idea in me: “There’s no ‘light-bulb moment.’ The answers are already in front of you, if you choose to see them.”
I was skeptical at first upon hearing this. “You mean I won't be hit by this electrifying lightning bolt, changing my life forever?”
On reflection, this was the enlightening idea that allowed me to move forward.
I realized that all along I was looking in the wrong direction. I never really stopped to think about what was important to me and how I could use these insights to live a more fulfilling life where every day mattered.
The truth is, we spend so much time following false riches and focusing on hollow goals that we often lose touch with what is right in front of us.
However, there is a way to edge closer to your truth: to live a truly rich and meaningful life, you need to unearth your deepest values and desires.
And to do that, I discovered that by asking the right questions, you can see through the mist casting shadows on your thinking and clarity.
Questions are effective because they jolt your brain into a different level of reflection, digging to the root of your values (unlike wondering why you're blocked, which only confirms you are indeed in a lost place).
So, with the help of the following four questions, I began to uncover the hidden treasures that I neglected for so long in all areas of my life.
I invite you to ask yourself these questions too, and note the immediate answers that surface.
1. What kind of qualities does your superhero self have when relating to others?
Imagine your internal fears magically disappear; how would you behave differently with others?
This question clarifies the sorts of relationships you want to be forming with others. It's not about how you'd like to be treated, but rather the way your ideal self would behave when connecting with others.
Also think about what your superhero does when pushed to the limit. Does he or she stand by and let others dominate, or have the courage to say, “No, I’m not having this”?
When I asked myself this question, integrity, self-respect, and honesty featured on top of my list of important qualities to have. Since then, I’ve successfully confronted people when I've found their behavior unacceptable toward me instead of keeping my sorrows inside.
Remember, often you can't run away from people you don't like, but you can choose to respond to them differently, either by interpreting situations in an empowering way internally or by saying your peace out loud.
2. What type of activities could you channel your energies toward that would satisfy you deep down?
Imagine you’re receiving an award for your life’s work. How would they describe your achievements when you’re called to make your acceptance speech?
This exercise is not meant to find your passion or your calling. It's designed to shed light on the values that are dear to you, and it can be used in any workplace to inject enthusiasm into whatever you do.
When I connected with my deeper values of being helpful, considerate, and compassionate, it was a game changer. I used these rediscovered qualities to give my full attention to those who needed it instead of focusing on trying to fit in a work environment that didn't suit my personality.
You may not be doing what you'd ideally like to right now, but you can turn even a stop gap activity into a source of valuable life enhancing experience.
3. What do you spend too much time worrying about?
Imagine you’re looking back on your life as an elderly person. What advice would your older self give to your younger self?
None of us like to imagine ourselves as a bitter eighty-year-old full of regret. Every time I ask this question to myself, worries suddenly reorder themselves, and solutions appear instead of endless anxiety.
This question particularly clarified for me that I needed to focus on being more open, trusting, and mindful. I've become more open to experiences I was afraid of before and more trusting of myself, the future, and others. I also purposefully slowed down and become mindful of the world around me, seeing the beauty in the everyday things I would have walked past before.
Life's daily trials can seem so insurmountable at times; petty incidents seem enough to want to tear your hair out. But do they really matter in the grand scheme of things? Will it matter even a few months on if someone talked to you the wrong way?
4. What do you not do enough of?
Imagine you have all the time in the world. What would your quiet times look like?
When it comes to winding down, do you give yourself the opportunity to fully restore your energy? Or do you habitually squeeze an extra three to four hours of each day just to keep up with life's demands?
Chasing material things and endlessly going after bold goals can spell trouble ahead. Forgetting to pamper yourself now and then not only lets your health down, but also negatively affects your relationships.
My new priorities that emerged were creativity, family, and health. I used to long for the day when I'd retire and could immerse myself in painting and drawing. But I discovered how I can add creative imagination to daily life when working on my planner or cooking a meal for instance.
If this all sounds too alien, or wrong, maybe you have to start by accepting that you and your sanity matter as much as the next person's. If you really care about living a meaningful life, doing more of what makes you happy will be just the magic pill you need.
Living by Your Highest Standards
You know life is only worth living if it's meaningful.
Waking up each morning with excitement does not have to be at the bottom of your priorities.
Clarifying your deepest values and desires will help you make decisions (small or large) and see alternative options.
You’ll have the power to take a stand when others are crossing your boundaries or asking for too much.
You'll realize you don’t need money to fulfill your dreams; you can travel on a budget, help your parents without spending a dime, and do work you enjoy rather than work that merely pays well.
Finally, once you shift the focus and give yourself permission to live by your values, it’ll be such a motivating element that you’ll never again ask, “What’s the point of it all?”
Happy man with arms raised image via Shutterstock