Psychology Today magazine staff recently surveyed group of behavioral experts to gather their thoughts on how to live a meaningful life. The experts offered wisdom from their fields, but also from their personal, instinctual wisdom. Here are some of their thoughts:
1. When Life Issues an Invitation, Accept.
The best antidote to fear and habit is to live spontaneously. Fear and habit hold us back and keep us stuck, but spontaneity opens us up to creativity and happiness. Being spontaneous is not the same as acting impulsively, however. Random impulsive action is not the path to happiness. Spontaneity means being open to possibilities, and being willing to live according to our own inner promptings, rather than the expectations of others.
2. Don’t Hold Back
Everything we do in life, and every new skill we learn, requires a level of commitment. When we learn a new sport, the beginning is often easy. But when we attempt to surpass that basic skill level, our self-protective instinct prevents us from relaxing and committing ourselves to the experience. The same is true in relationships. Starting a new relationship is often exhilarating, and we make an intense emotional connection. From that initial connection, however, we must move to great vulnerability to create the relationship that will give us true happiness.
3. Value A Little Compulsion
Be open to a little obsession. Research scientists often become obsessed with their search for knowledge, and that kind of compulsion makes life exciting. If you are fortunate enough to have a passion in life, embrace that passion.
4. Zig When the World Zags
As one expert in the survey said, “If nobody is upset, you’re doing something wrong.” Don’t be afraid to fail in your pursuit of meaning in your life and work. Failure is simply an opportunity to gather more information before moving forward. Follow your own star, and do not allow yourself to be held back by the beliefs of others.
5. Expect the Unexpected and Make Peace with It
Life is unpredictable. Things will happen that you don’t like, but cannot change. Find a way to surrender to what is and move out of resistance and into acceptance. When you aren’t wasting your mental energy resisting, you will be free to find new opportunities. Remember the verse from the Tao Te Ching that reads, “A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind.”
6. Practice the Art of Under-Reacting
Adopt a zen perspective. Do not allow your emotions to be manipulated in response to circumstances. If you lose a lover, or a job, of course you may be sad. But when you withdraw your emotional energy from the situation, you can see that there is something better for you elsewhere, and life has done you a favor. It is also important to keep your emotional perspective when good things happen. Life is full of ups and downs, and the key to personal contentment is detachment.
7. Stop worrying now
Many of us are worriers, allowing worry to take up valuable space in our hearts and minds. Worry is futile, as it changes nothing. Furthermore, it poisons our present experience. If you can do something to change a situation you don’t like, take action. If you cannot, discipline yourself to jettison worry.
8. Always Have a Sense of Humor
Humor is a survival tool. It makes space for recuperation, restoration and redemption. One contributor called it “emotional recycling at its best.” Being able to laugh and yourself and your situation moves you from the position of victim to victor over the ugliness sometimes present in life.