Happy new year, all.
It’s a time that brings up reflection, renewal, and yes, celebration. And with the opportunity of a new year, especially this one, often comes everyone’s favorite goal-setting activity: resolutions. What newness are you hoping to bring about this year? Before your goals are set in stone, I challenge you to think about intentions in a different way this year.
Evidence shows that 2021 New Year’s resolutions especially circle around a few general categories: personal health (understandable, after nearly a year of patriotic couch-sitting), self-improvement, and money. Other prioritized changes revolve around family, love, and career. However, instead of vowing to focus solely on exercising more, losing weight, saving money, or eating “better,” what if you were to launch into 2021 striving for more meaning in your life?
Pursuing meaning instead
When we make resolutions, what are we pursuing? Usually it’s some form of change, often with a promise of greater happiness. I don’t just want my clients to experience momentary joy, however. Real happiness is a full, rich, and meaningful life—not just a passing emotion.
Here’s the thing. When we act deliberately on things that truly matter to us and make movement toward what we believe is valuable and worthy, THEN our lives become rich and full and meaningful. This kind of happiness is not fleeting but is rather a resonant sense of a well-lived life. This is the meaningfulness that I strive for with my clients.
Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist who I previously wrote about here, identified three basic sources of meaning:
- Contributing service in times of crisis,
- Giving love & care to others, and
- Showing courage or making meaning in the presence of suffering.
Meaning in life in 2021
After a rough year and a raucous start to 2021, I can think of no better way to pursue true happiness and fulfillment than by engaging in these three practices. Frankl and decades of researchers after him have found that meaning is rooted in providing service and care to others. What does providing service and care to others mean to you?
To me, this means charging forward in acting for social justice. For those of you who share this commitment, providing service to those who need it means continuing in pursuit of anti-oppressive practices. This might look like joining in direct action in support of the Movement for Black Lives, doing the continual work of reflecting on ourselves and our privilege (including on the privilege in setting resolutions!), or decolonizing our bookshelves, media consumption, and spending.
Consider how you can strive for both self growth and community growth. Maybe the resolutions you’ve already set can be outwardly-focused as well. Many of us participate in “Dry January” or have committed to cooking more rather than ordering take-out. You might consider donating the money you save by giving up booze and delivery to your local or regional food bank. You don’t need to end food insecurity to make a meaningful contribution; even little acts count. Reflect on your values, and find a meaningful way to build service into resolutions you’re already setting.
To other readers, Viktor Frankl’s three sources of meaning may get your mind jogging around something else: starting to volunteer, reaching out to friends more, or even shifting careers. Whatever this brings up for you, just consider for a moment what it would be like to pursue meaning this year.
Contributing your strengths in this time of global crisis, providing care for our communities who are hurting, and making meaning of the suffering of this past year—that’s the prescription I’m sharing with my loved ones this year.