You’ve been trying to ask the tough questions about life but people around you are telling you to lighten up. Don’t be so sensitive, they say. Don’t take life so seriously. But the thoughts are still there, urging you to examine life and the manner in which it is folding away into eternity’s past. Personally, I believe that everyone’s life has meaning, however, your perception of your life’s meaning can sometimes be so off-kilter that you need to make intentional steps to realign your expectations, perceptions, and goals with reality (reality being that your life does have meaning even if you can’t perceive it right now).
Realigning your perceptions with reality is made all the more important if you resonate with these 10 signs of a misaligned life. But don’t worry — if you see yourself in these 10 signs, you can always head over to my complete guide on finding meaning in life.
1) You constantly feel dissatisfied.
Sometimes, chronic dissatisfaction can lead us to ask the right questions. Why do you always feel that what you do is never enough? (Cue Loren Allred…) Although it’s natural to sometimes go into self-critique mode, it’s not healthy to constantly live in a state of existential restlessness. If you never feel content with your accomplishments, relationships, and life status, this is a good sign that you’re not incorporating a healthy level of meaningfulness in the way you live.
2) You’re addicted to entertainment.
Movies, music, and social media can be a form of self-induced vegetation, something that actually puts us in an altered mental state for a period of time. Returning to the “real world” that has no soundtrack, no adrenaline rush, and no photoshop-perfect images can feel like a letdown, leaving you feeling empty.
In a recent survey of Americans, a full 54% of respondents indicated that they always or sometimes feel that nobody knows them well. Nobody. This is tragic, because research suggests that prosocial behavior is positively linked to one’s sense of meaning in life. What is life if you live as an independent atom, so disconnected from other human beings that one out of every two people believes that nobody knows them well? If you resonate with this statistic, you’re probably more likely to sense a lack on meaning in life, too.
4) You think “meaning” in life equates to heroics.
Everybody would like to be a modern Superman or Wonder Woman – but genetics and our environments do not dole out equal opportunities for everybody to become a hero. A few generations ago, folks were completely content to raise a family, build a home, work a 9-5 job, and soak up the joys of huge family holiday gatherings and front porch connections with the neighbors. Today, this isn’t good enough anymore. Millennials are reported to watch 6.6 hours of Netflix per day (that’s 13 years of movie-watching over an average lifespan). That’s 6.6 hours of heroics, romantics, and all kinds of not-real-life scenes getting imprinted on your mind. No wonder you come back to reality and feel like everything is so tame, boring, and meaningless. If you have unrealistic expectations that a meaningful life has to be full of heroics, you would be a good candidate to explore this topic further…
5) You feel a lack on control over your own life.
Part of living meaningfully relates to self-determinism and the ability to shape your own destiny – either alone or in partnership with others if you’re fortunate enough to have involved family members. Another sign that your life lacks a healthy sense of meaning is that you don’t have a feeling of being more or less in control of what happens to you. This may come from being stuck in a toxic relationship, struggling with a chronic disease, battling addiction, or having personality weaknesses that make it tough to grab your life in your own hands. Without a sense of control, it is hard to find a sense of meaning.
6) You fail to see your own value.
It might be just me, but self-hate usually leads me to nihilistic thinking. I was suicidal once. The connection between disgusting-me and disgusting-life is ever so strong, but it is faulty thinking that fails to take into account the intrinsic value of every human being.
7) You have an unhealthy lifestyle.
This might sound surprising, but eating fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly is associated with higher levels of meaning and purpose. Healthy living might be a contributing cause for clearer perceptions of life, or it may come as a result of having a clear purpose. Whatever the case, there’s a link! However, overall physical health was shown to have only a weak to moderate link with a sense of purpose, which suggests that even people who are in poor health can still achieve a sense of meaning.
8) You don’t help others very often.
Researchers distinguish between happiness (hedonic well-being) and a sense of meaning (eudaemonic well-being). One study showed that positive social connections contributed to a rise in both types of well-being, but helping others in need (that is, being in a “giver” role) contributed singularly to eudaemonic well-being. Thus, failing to have an outlet where you can volunteer, give, and help people in need might be another factor contributing to your sense that life lacks meaning.
9) You have stinkin’ thinkin’.
I plead guilty. It’s so easy to indulge cognitive misbeliefs like self-pity, blame, and excuses. I call it stinkin’ thinkin’. CBT really is your best friend – embrace it to the proportion that you want to see improvement in your emotional outlook (I recommend the excellent book Telling Yourself the Truth if you want to try CBT on your own). Seriously, cognitive misbeliefs like “I’m never going to be good enough for my parents,” or “I’ll never amount to anything meaningful in life because I’m ugly,” or “if only my abuser hadn’t done XYZ to me, I’d be able to make progress in life” are all calculated to cripple you.
10) You self-medicate.
Self-medication doesn’t necessarily relate to prescription meds – you could be self-medicating your pain, angst, and dissatisfaction with a whole host of other things. Alcohol, nicotine, junk food, entertainment, drugs, partying, sex, porn, violent sports or video games, oversleeping, and even over-exercising can be forms of self-medication. If you find yourself craving certain activities as a way of numbing yourself from dealing with the tough stuff in your life, it might be a sign that your favorite activity has actually become an unhealthy form of self-medication. These kinds of escape mechanisms mean that you’re constantly living a disembodied or escapist life, never really “present” and fully engaged with what is most meaningful, never really facing what is most painful.
What to Do Next?
It is my belief that every life has meaning. This isn’t a question about whether your life has meaning or not, it’s about what you need to do to get your perceptions to match that reality. If you feel that your life is meaningless, and you also experience many of the observations I’ve noted above, you absolutely need to start gutting your life of everything that distorts your vision so that you can see clearly how your life is meaningful.
Simplify. Reduce. Learn to live in the real world, not a fantasy world. Connect with real people. Give yourself for others in need. Rewire your mind to think true and healthy thoughts rather than distorted thoughts. All this takes time, practice, and perseverance, but it’s very, very possible. I used to have constant suicidal ideations because of my nihilistic impressions of the world. Although hardcore nihilists would probably laugh and tell me I have a weak mind, I never made peace with that ideology. Eventually, I did manage to make peace with myself – through my personal faith and a mountain of super hard work. Based on my own experience, I believe anybody can develop a genuine appreciation for life and a sense of purpose. I did it, and you can, too.
I wish you the very best on your journey to a more meaningful life.