Such people have worked hard and achieved well academically. They have done everything society has said will bring them happiness. Such people talk about wanting to live, not just exist. They talk about frustration with themselves and their relationships. They talk about the compulsion to perform, the hunger to do more, the need to do well and the disconnection they feel when it doesn’t work.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. We are generally not encouraged by society to reflect on our inner life, but it is something a lot of people come to reflect on after an unexpected event or trauma. The examined life is about knowing your deepest motives. It is about self-awareness – about knowing how to be bored and alone without reaching for the short-term gratifications that are so easy to come by. In short it is about building emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence.
Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, quoted Nietzsche when asked how he survived the horror: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
One way of getting to the “why” in your own life is highlighting and defining your values.
I often ask clients to select from an exhaustive list of values and find the ones that for them resonate most strongly. Together we discuss and define what the values mean to the client and their lives. Next time the client has to make an unexpected decision they can go back to their list of values, and sit with their dilemma while also looking at their value list.
For example, a successful businesswoman who worked in the advertising industry identified that authenticity was the top value on her list. For her very little of herself was able to be shown through her work, and she realised this value was not reflected in the way she lived her work life. This provided a clue to the disconnection she felt on a daily basis, feeling that the work she did, did not enhance her sense of self or self development. She was able to sit down with her team and talk about moving in a new direction as the result of her personal reflections.
Martin Seligman (the founder of the positive psychology movement) refers to positive psychology as being concerned with the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. He described the meaningful life as the use of your strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are. To find your strengths visit this website and register (it’s free) then take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
For people who are interested in this topic I recommend reading:
Get Your Groove Back: How Spiritual Intelligence Can Give You the Work and Life You Really Want by Jasbindar Singh
Spiritual Intelligence. The Ultimate Intelligence by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall
What Shall I Do with My Life by Po Bronson
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle