Meaning is something we make for ourselves. It can be imbued in the most obvious and major life moments, and in the small details many people miss.
While it's easy to assume we all apply the same metrics of meaning to our lives, it can be fascinating to learn just how differently we all view our days.
When I wake up in the morning and ask my dog ' gotta go outside?' and she groggily gets up, comes over to my chest and flops down, making sure she's under the covers and laying on me as if to say '5 more minutes.'
In those first waking moments, everything in the outside world just stops existing except me and my dog. The bed is warm, I have puppy snuggles, and we exist in just this warm, happy bubble before she decides it is in fact time to go outside.
When I get home from college, I take walks with my dad at an old high school track field. We usually go around midnight and sometimes we'll stop at the local gas station for a hot drink when the nights are cold. I like that even though he thinks fancy coffee drinks are silly, he'll get one with me anyways. Spending time with him is what I look forwards to :)
I generally struggle to find the motivation to get up and go to the library to get some writing done. When I do go, I'm usually there for about six hours or so, but getting that first push to get out of the house -- especially in winter -- isn't easy.
There's an older lady there (in her sixties for sure; maybe early seventies, but definitely retired) who's doing her MA in English Literature and occasionally sits at the same work table as me.
She's there from about 2-5pm most days, and for the past two weeks we've started talking about stuff. Sometimes it's her course -- I did an MA in English and used to tutor, so she asks me about stuff or for advice on her essays -- and other times it's just shooting the shit for ten minutes before we both get down to work.
I've started making sure I go to the library early and more regularly just to make sure I get an opportunity to chat with her when she arrives. I really look forward to it now. Writing is a solitary sort of a job, but it's nice to have a friendly face at what amounts to the office -- plus I'm now spending more time at the library because I'm getting there earlier, which is boosting my weekly word count.
Win-win, as far as I can see. I don't know about 'meaning', exactly, but it's definitely something that makes my days a bit brighter. TL;DR: My casual old lady library friend.
I volunteer at something like a suicide hotline, I like to call it a 'just-short-of-suicide-hotline'. I don't have a background in social work - training was provided.
It's not a suicide hotline, they're typically called crisis or distress hotlines, meant for people who may or may not be suicidal, but need to talk to someone. Mainly it involves listening. Listening to people who are sad, lonely, depressed, or facing something challenging.
Sometimes I have doubts about school and my career, I feel like I've taken on a lot. But with volunteering, there's no hesitation - I feel like I'm helping people get through tough days. On one or two occasions I really believe I helped people who were considering suicide just by listening and letting them know how they felt mattered.
And sometimes I'll do something as simple as help someone with anxiety take a deep breath, or remind someone with depression that they should eat something and take their medication - little things to help people cope. After exams I'm going to be volunteering more for the season because I quit my job. I'm looking forward to it.
I've received some questions.
How can I call something like this?
Good question. It depends. These hotlines are typically locally run, so I don't want to give you just any number - you might incur long-distance charges.
If you're in Canada, you can go to this website which has a directory for the different Crisis/Distress Hotlines.
As for other countries, here are some resources reddit has put together from r/suicidewatch
It's comprehensive and has an FAQ guide on what to expect when you call.
If you are suicidal I would recommend calling 911 (or the equivalent of in your country) or a suicide hotline. If you are not necessarily suicidal but are in crisis or distress, I would recommend calling either a distress hotline or crisis hotline.
Here I am speaking for crisis/distress hotlines: we might not be able to fix your concerns or troubles, but we can absolutely listen if you feel like you need to talk to someone. Don't be afraid to call - that's literally what we are there for.
How do I volunteer?
Crisis/Distress Hotlines are typically locally run. If you're interested I would google the name of your city/state plus crisis line/crisis centre/distress hotline to see if you can volunteer in your area.
I would advise against calling the number of a crisis/distress hotline to find out how to volunteer. Please go through the information listed on the website. The lines are often busy, and the call taker will likely forward you to the website anyway. As for requirements, the hotline where I work does not require experience in social work - training is provided.
Sometimes a social work background can even get in the way, if your experience compels you to move the focus to problem-solving instead of listening. Listening and being nonjudgemental is really the most important thing in what I do. However, I can't necessarily speak for other hotlines, I wouldn't be surprised to learn different centres have different requirements or standards. It's still worth looking into.
From my understanding suicide hotlines (different from crisis/distress hotlines), do require a background in social work, are paid positions, and have different standards. I'm not the right person to ask about those sorts of positions.
Today I led about 85 residents of a large nursing home in a holiday sing-along. They were all gathered around the grand piano in the auditorium - mostly in wheelchairs. My choir and I volunteer each year when the facility invites us to generate some Christmas cheer to a group of people who often feel sad or neglected.
Seeing their smiles and having them enthusiastically call out their favorite tunes or carols adds meaning to life - both theirs and ours.
When I tell the dog 'Let's go outside' and he prances ten feet, stops to make sure I’m really following him, runs to the door, and spins in a circle because life is great.
I have a small barn with our twelve chickens. Every time, I close them up, I count them off, to make sure everyone is accounted for. We've had problems with raccoon and raptors attacking over time, and it's a huge relief when I get to twelve.
When I'm counting, which I do out loud, in a soft voice, several of the chickens look at me, as if to say, we are trying to sleep here, leave us be. I check for eggs, check to make sure they have enough water and feed.
'Goodnight, girls,' I say quietly,' we love you.' I turn out the light and hear soft clucking noises as I head out the door. Simultaneously very human they seem to me, and very much like chickens.
I enjoy making people feel included and noticed/valued. So I'll always look for the person in the room who's by themselves and chat them up. Sometimes it's easy to notice someone who's not very confident or doesn't think anyone would be interested.
Giving them a complement and maybe talking for a bit always lights them up. You can see the shock/disbelief when they're pleasantly surprised. Such days are my favourite.
There are lots of things but I think the most specific one is my 'alone time' with my son. He hasn't been born yet, but every night after his mom has fallen asleep, I gently put my hand on him and give 3 little 'I love you' pats and he almost always gives me a kick or two back.
It's probably because I'm irritating him in his sleep, but he's going to be waking me up every night for who knows how long pretty soon. So too bad kiddo.
Eating freshly peeled mangos like they're apples. None of that cutting off chunks garbage. Chomp down on that sucker and let the juice roll down your face. Sure you might need to shower afterwards but it's the purest sense of joy I consistently experience.
Being the 'young guy' in Narcotics Anonymous. I'm only 19 and it's pretty rare to see anyone around my age trying to get clean. I think I can speak for most teenagers in that our worlds seem so small. Having to let go of lifelong friends for personal happiness is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
It definitely gives me a sense of purpose to be there to show other kids around my age who are struggling that it is possible to get clean young.
Edit: Thank you guys so much for all the support. I went from college to homeless to rehabs to psych wards and then jail all in the past 2 years. I wanted to just be dead for so long. Idc if anyone thinks it dramatic because as long as one person who is struggling with mental illness or addiction sees this and feels uplifted or hopeful than I am grateful.
No one should ever have to feel the way I did, just know that you are not alone.
I have a little code I made up called 'vindictus' which is vengeance in Latin, or at least I think it is idk but it sounds cool. Basically, my childhood sucked, it was incredibly traumatic. I spent a lot of time angry because I never felt the concept of innocence or growing up like a lot of my friends.
In a sense, I wanted vengeance for my lost childhood. The thing is most people want to go about vengeance by somehow bringing back the past and that's impossible. The pain will never go away and things will have always happened.
I realized that instead that it is better to make the pain of yesterday negligible compared to tomorrow's triumph. So basically, my concept of vengeance is finding a way to become happy enough that I don't care about all the bad s**t that happened to me. You can't take away the sadness but at least you can become numb to it.
My 3-year-old son doesn't like public toilet hand dryers. I think the volume and the fact you're in a small space scares him. He usually forgets they exist until someone turns one on and every time it happens his little hand will shoot up to grab mine. A little bit of reassurance for him.
Reminds me that no matter how often I feel like I'm pretending at being an adult, this little dude thinks I can protect him from the scary things.
I'm 21. I was adopted at birth. I've never met any biological relatives, and I've always wanted to know my other family. In like 2 weeks I'm going to meet my birth mother for the first time. I'm terrified and excited beyond belief. This is the only thing getting me through finals.
Otherwise, I want to see the world. I traveled for the first time this past summer and now I want to explore everywhere.
Brushing/scraping snow off of people’s cars. Even better if they aren’t looking or aware of it. I try to do that when it snows at night at work before everyone leaves and I love seeing their reactions to it.