A 40-year-old client in therapy tells me, “Last year felt like I was under a spell where I kept working, as I was worried that I may lose my job and I thought that the only way to remain satisfied was by continuing to work. Now, over the last few months, I find myself thinking about building a meaningful life. I always thought that this goal of having a good life was something that I would think about in my late 50s or 60s but it looks like the question is already haunting me. I don’t even know what I am seeking but a lot of things that seemed significant seem to be fading away.”
It’s a question that has made it to therapy sessions very often over the last six months, particularly after the second covid-19 wave. Clients across age groups and gender have raised this question in various ways. What’s significant is that even when we are slowly inching towards a familiar world where offices are beginning to open, schools are reopening and more and more people are getting vaccinated, the question continues to play on so many people’s minds.
When human beings are confronted with situations like war, natural calamities or an illness like covid-19, we become acutely aware of our mortality and begin to re-examine our lives. While we continue to live against the backdrop of a pandemic, we begin to see our daily life, goals and dreams through a new lens. A lens that propels us to recalibrate life from a place of satisfaction, purpose, even the larger question of legacy.
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One of the main components of a well-lived life is authenticity. We begin to feel more and more free if we can give ourselves permission to be who we are, practise self-compassion and trust the choices we make. Authenticity is not about being brash or callous but learning to hold space for ourselves and being comfortable with who we are and, in turn, with others around us. While the journey towards authenticity is a life-long one, there is always a time or a moment when people begin to recognise they feel more at ease with who they are.
Authenticity is linked to a sense of autonomy. A recognition of factors that lie in our control, and those outside it. Research over the years and my clinical experience tell me that the key to a fulfilling life is the relationships we have cultivated. Whether it’s friendships, family or the community we belong to, all of them allow us to feel seen, heard and even held. Relationships that allow for emotional intimacy allow us to feel less lonely in a world that can often seem scary or overwhelming. Many of the decisions people have made during the pandemic, whether it’s marriage, moving in with a partner, moving towards committed relationships or moving back with family, are an extension of this need for intimacy and comfort.
Our ability to regulate our moods is another component that goes a long way not just in maintaining relationships but in allowing us to remain centred and, in turn, authentic. Here is a little secret: It’s never too late to learn how to regulate your emotions.
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Finally, if we can lead a life which is aligned to our values, then we are on our path to building a meaningful life.
The secret lies in identifying the values we want to live by and then embracing those core values so as to be more authentic, develop relationships and even self-regulate. Our purpose, meaning-making and narratives of kindness emerge from values that are significant to our reality.
M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology Of Love, Traditional Values And Spiritual Growth, says: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.” Maybe our desire to build a meaningful life is an embodiment of this awareness.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.
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