Dear Dr. Norquist:
Lately my life feels empty and meaningless, even though I always have a lot to do. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get ahead in my career path and have done well, but my work leaves me feeling flat and empty. I come home at the end of the day, tired and burnt out, eat dinner, perhaps talk with a friend, and then ready myself for bed in order to start again the next day. Weekends I run errands, do household chores, workout and then meet friends at a bar. I have some short-lived, alcohol-induced good times with friends, and then I ready myself for the work grind again.
I thought there would be more to life than this. Where is the reward in life? Right now it all feels quite meaningless.
Dr. Norquist responds:
We are taught that meaning and happiness come from something on the outside – achievement, money, prestige, love, power, etc. So much of our precious life energy goes into the pursuit of these achievements. Many clients who come to see me complain of an inner emptiness and a lack of meaning in their lives. Often, they have recently achieved a goal they had been striving toward for a long time, and then find out there is no “pot of gold” at the completion of this achievement. It doesn’t fill them with the happiness and contentment they’d been hoping for. There is no depth of experience, no sense of “soul” – just an inner emptiness, raw and naked, not covered over by the continued striving toward a goal. Perhaps this is your experience as well.
As a culture, we are well versed in exploring the outer world, while our inner world is surprisingly uncharted. We drown out its cries for attention by our continual focus on either “doing” or avoiding our inner feelings by trying to find happiness through the use of alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work, buying, or relationships. What would happen if you stopped all the doing and avoiding, just to spend some time listening and being? What would your heart say to you in these moments of just being with yourself? Would it welcome you home? Our truest, most consistent sense of contentment and meaning is found inside, not outside. It is found in the heart.
What would your life be like if you went through your days with the goal of living a “heart”-full life? Living from your heart can be done silently, without any verbal reference to the heart. It can be a silent prayer for someone’s well-being, a warm smile, laughter, a cheerful greeting, a consistent attitude of respect towards all you meet, heartfelt compassion for someone’s pain or ill-fortune.
Take a look at those you know who seem to have a genuine experience of contentment and meaning in their lives. What seems to make the difference in their lives? My guess is what you’ll notice is they seem to have found a heartfelt way to engage with life. Live your life with heart and you will experience more “soul” in your life – more richness, more connectedness, more meaning, and more inner contentment. Then your heart will be full, your days rich, and happiness will be yours in the moment, and not just a goal you are hoping to find in the future.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2020 Chaitanya Counseling Services