Have you ever asked yourself that question? If you reached 40+ years, chances are you have. Who am I and why am I here? Maybe you have even read the classic Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. In this book, Dr. Frankl described his experiences inside the Nazi concentration camps of WWII and noticed that those who survived had a similar perspective on life.
He noted that “they connect with a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immerse themselves in imagining that purpose such as conversing with an (imagined) loved one.” So, in other words, changing your mindset towards how you approach your life can literally add years to your life.
This stresses the importance of thoughts, and how thoughts create feelings, and feelings affect your physiology.
The Gottmans had an interesting observation they shared; the number of contemptuous remarks made towards you by your partner correlates to the percent chance that you will fall ill with disease. So, if you ever felt ‘ those words hurt’ – they literally did and will.
But, back to your identity work. This is extremely important work to do. Although Victor Frankl references the importance of purpose in life, I think we need to see this beyond our careers, because frankly, careers end. I also have way too many caregivers (mostly women) coming to me after the kids have left the nest feeling very alone and lost.
We can’t put all our eggs in one basket. Just like we need to diversify our investment portfolio, we need to find different interests, hobbies, and lifestyle patterns that bring us joy and schedule time in our day to do these things.
One last comment regarding Victor’s teachings. Note that he stresses ‘conversing that with an imagined loved one’. I believe what he is stressing is the idea of sharing.
And to me, that is why, throughout life, we need to place a lot of emphasis on relationship building. Whether it is through networking, connecting with community members, speaking to your neighbor, making small talk with the barista, maintaining friendships, or sharing something about your day with your partner on a regular basis…sharing is caring.
Throughout my work as a therapist, I can honestly say that too many individuals place way too much emphasis on what a relationship SHOULD be, instead of just doing the bare minimum, which to me is building a culture of appreciation and doing small things often.
We don’t need the Harlequin romance, we just need to be able to have a coffee conversation with our partners without some sort of criticism, negative comment, eye roll, or defensiveness.