In the article, See Your World in a Fresh, New Way (Part 1) we explore ways to cultivate meaning by focusing on 2 character strengths, appreciation of beauty and excellence and curiosity, 2 strengths that are high for me. But, after I wrote Part 1, a friend reminded me of this from Viktor Frankl:
“The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment.”
This is a great reminder that our sense of meaning is not necessarily linked to one thing, one purpose or goal. It is also true that what is meaningful to me is not necessarily meaningful to someone else. Meaning is personal and changing. Our sense of meaning evolves.
As discussed in Part 1, research shows there are six character strengths that have a special relationship with meaning, therefore boosting these strengths may help build more meaning into our lives. The six strengths are: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Gratitude, Perspective, Social Intelligence and Spirituality.
In Part 1 we explored two of the six – appreciation of beauty and excellence and curiosity. Now, we will explore the other four – starting with gratitude.
The Strength of Gratitude
More than just experiencing thankfulness, this strength is also about expressing thankfulness. Sometimes we experience gratitude because of a specific trigger – an act of kindness or generosity from someone toward us, the gift of a painting for a child for example. Other times, we have a more general sense of being grateful for the life we have, the people around us and who we are.
Did you know that focusing on gratitude improves health and strengthens the immune system?
- When do you most easily notice a feeling of gratitude?
- How do you express gratitude?
- How do the people close to you like gratitude expressed to them? With a hug? A card? A gift? You can use curiosity to find out by asking them!
- What is one thing you will focus on with gratitude this week?
The Strength of Perspective
Who does not appreciate the value of a different perspective? When we take other perspectives into account, we see new opportunities and new pathways to our goals. Having a sense of the big picture improves wellbeing in later life! We can all increase our sense of perspective and through that, our sense of meaning. Here are some things to consider…
- How do you discover different perspectives on your decisions or challenges?
- Who helps you see things from another point of view?
- How do you help others step back and look at the big picture?
- How do you feel when you help someone see things from a new angle?
- Who is one person you will turn to for perspective, or who is one person you will provide perspective for this week?
The Strength of Social Intelligence
Social intelligence is awareness of others combined with the ability to adapt to situations and people in a way that is sensitive to others – social awareness + social faculty. As more and more research highlights the basic human need for connection to others, it is apparent that the strength of social intelligence has a big role to play. I happen to work with people who tend to report social intelligence lower down their strengths ranking than others, and they have quickly discovered that working on social intelligence is not only beneficial but also straight forward when we keep a character strengths focus!
Take a moment each day for the next week to “SEA” a strength in another person
- Spot a strength – keep a cheat sheet of the strengths with you so you can sneak a peek!
- Explain to the other person what you see
- Express your appreciation of their strength It may take a little bravery to do this the first few times, and what you will discover is that it gets easier to do and there is no “getting it wrong”. When you see a strength that is core to them, they will acknowledge that it feels like an essential part of who they are. When you see a strength that they don’t associate strongly with themselves, they will be pleasantly surprised and will be encouraged to think about and use that strength more. And you are likely to notice a ripple effect! The more you highlight the strengths of others, the more they will do the same for the people they interact with.
The Strength of Spirituality
This strength connects us to our larger world, possibly a higher power, to a sense that there are things bigger than us. There are many facets of spirituality including a sense of calling, purpose, practices that connect with higher powers or purpose. People who are high in spirituality are often also more likely to use forgiveness, be able to use self-regulation and are likely to be more optimistic. Nevertheless, this is not a common top strength around the world!
- How do you experience spirituality?
- What special – even sacred – places, people or objects have you that heighten that sense of connection?
- What spirituality practices do you enjoy? What is one practice you will engage in this week?
At the end of each day and the end of the week, reflect on how each of these practices felt. How did each strength heighten your sense of meaning? Which of the six strengths provided the greatest connection to meaning for you?
Choose two of the strengths to focus on each week to build your sense of meaning further. Choose the same two strengths each week or different ones. You can focus on the strengths that seemed to provide your strongest meaning connection or on strengths that were not so obviously meaningful. Experiment to see how you are best able to build your sense of meaning!
Check out the new Start with Strengths course which has a whole module on Meaning including videos, practices and reading.