Using Strengths as a Pathway to Find Greater Meaning in Life
Generally, we think of meaning as being our purpose, our reason for being, something that pushes us, even in the face of struggles. Meaning helps us stretch, step out of our comfort zones and grow. It gives us a sense of significance – that we matter.
We also know that meaning is tied to learning. When a class or training connects to a bigger purpose for us, we are more likely to retain the learning and more importantly apply it. Even the most interesting topics don’t stick with us unless they connect to a bigger purpose for us.
How To Cultivate Meaning
There are two main ways we can cultivate meaning – the first is to find it in our everyday, we can attribute meaning to the things we do by being mindful of their effect on ourselves and others.
Another great way to cultivate a sense of meaning is through six key character strengths which have been shown to have a special relationship to our sense of meaning. These strengths are: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Gratitude, Perspective, Social Intelligence and Spirituality.
Here I will focus on two of my special favorites! Then read my follow-up article, See Your World in a Fresh, New Way (Part 2) to learn about the other four character strengths.
The Strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a personal favorite of mine and is a great source of hope, happiness and excitement for me. When I first discovered that this is a strength – it something that we all have but in different amounts and that we express differently – I was surprised! It seemed to me that surely we all experience awe when in nature contemplating the texture of bark on a tree, or the amazing feat of physics that is the bumble bee or the hummingbird (physical beauty); or a sense of appreciation when we see a virtuoso performance (skill and excellence), or a feat of courage or kindness (moral beauty).
Then one day I was out with a friend when I paused to look at the amazing view of the hills, the green trees – each one a subtly different shade - the clear sky with scurrying clouds. I was mesmerized and then I turned to my friend and said, “isn’t that view just stunning?”. She looked at me with dismay and said, “It is just green.”
I was surprised and excited to discover that we don’t all see things through an appreciative lens! While most of us experience moments of awe and wonder from time to time, some of us are pre-disposed to use this lens in every aspect of our day. And it is no surprise to me that appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of the strengths associated with meaning – every time I experience one of those moments, I feel connected to something bigger than me and inspired to act!
What if your strength of appreciation is not already fired up? There are so many ways that you can cultivate it and through it your sense of meaning.
Questions to Boost Your Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
- Think about when you feel awe and wonder- what situations cause you to pause and revel in the moment, feeling excitement, admiration and wonder? Who are you with? Where are you?
- What steps can you take to create more moments like those? Maybe you want to see a performance of a favorite play, or band. Maybe you want to spend time by the water or climbing. Or maybe you want to read or watch a movie about some great feat of daring or kindness.
- What is one activity you will do this week to stimulate your appreciation?
The Strength of Curiosity
Curiosity is a strength of exploration, discovery and experimentation. It has been shown to increase happiness, long-term health, relationships and our sense of meaning. Another favorite strength of mine, it keeps me engaged and feeling as though there is always more to come. Sometimes it is helpful to balance my curiosity with prudence or judgment as I can start out by looking up a recipe for veggie burgers and end up spending three hours studying global warming having followed a path of internet discovery that has led me from one topic to another! But having the sense of innate fascination with everything around me helps me feel a sense of purpose – there is always more to learn and explore, more to try out!
Where is your curiosity in your strengths profile? Wherever it is, you can cultivate it and through it find meaning.
Questions to Boost Your Curiosity
- How has your curiosity changed over time? (Sometimes when we are young, we are discouraged from expressing our curiosity and that becomes a habit.)
- If you have children, what is their level of curiosity compared to yours? What cultivates their interest?
- Consider what stimulates curiosity for you. Trying new food? Visiting a new place? Meeting a new person?
- Plan one activity to cultivate your curiosity. What is one thing you will try, explore, read about this week?
At the end of the week, think back over your appreciation and curiosity experiences and explore how they connected you to a sense of meaning.
Now, check out my next article where I explore the other four meaning related strengths!