New Year’s resolutions are always tricky for me. Historically, my resolutions have been pages of goals I have set for myself as I enter the new year- some realistic, some highly unlikely- and I honestly usually don’t look at them after January. This year is no different- I have dozens of goals I would like to accomplish, rhythms of work and life I hope to embrace in order to set myself up for success and wholeness in this next decade.
Starting the year with intention and vision is essential to actually gaining momentum as we press towards creating the life that we deeply desire within ourselves. Regardless of whether we continue to reflect on the resolutions we write as we enter the new year, the practice of envisioning tomorrow and aspiring for growth is worthwhile.
But as I came to the end of 2019, I really began to wrestle with the question- what is it that makes a meaningful, fulfilled life? As a Christian pastor, I have about a dozen theological answers that I am supposed to say in response to that question, but the truth is, I believe one of the biggest reasons for the decline of religion in this era is that we have failed to provide practical and instructive answers to this question. Where religious systems used to provide an entire plan for life, modern religion has been relegated to an extracurricular activity that really doesn’t inform our day to day life- and doesn’t improve it all that much either.
What is it that religion is trying to get at? What are the fundamental human needs that we all share in common which could help us feel more fulfilled and inspired as we live our day to day lives? As we enter this new decade, I want to share with you the eight core parts of a meaningful life that I have identified and am trying to live into in this next year. If my suspicion is correct, if we fill each of these categories with something over this next year, we will begin living a more whole and purposeful life.
SERVICE: This is a no brainer. Every spiritual tradition teaches that “it is better to give than it is to receive.” When we set aside time to serve others or serve our planet, without any compensation or benefit to ourselves, we grow in happiness and hopefulness. This year, I am committing to get involved in serving as a reading tutor at the elementary school near my home and will participate in our churches outreach to those experiencing homelessness. These two activities will take no more than four hours of my time each month and it will help keep me grounded in what matters most about our lives. How can you serve others over this next year?
CREATIVITY: Every single one of us is creative. The Jewish tradition has held that we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator God for thousands of years. If that is true, then the attribute of creativity is hardwired into what it means to be human. When we take time to simply create beauty- not for the sake of work, or platform, or any reason other than it gives us joy, we enhance our experience of life and contribute to bringing healing to the world. This year, I am committing to a number of creative endeavors- joining a local choir, learning piano, and I’ve bought a few adult coloring books to have fun with any time I feel the urge to scroll endlessly through Instagram. These simple creative activities engage and grow our brains and expand our soul’s capacity to perceive beauty in the world around us. What are some creative endeavors you will embrace this next year?
RELATIONSHIPS: Relationships are absolutely essential to living a meaningful and grounded life. Again, the Jewish Creation Myth has God declaring that “it is not good for humans to be alone” and the Christian concept of the Trinity has long proposed that God their self desired relationship and therefore exists as three persons, living in relationship for all eternity. But the truth is that for some of us, relationships are hard. Forming deep friendships that require vulnerability is growing increasingly difficult these days. Searching for romantic relationships in a culture of swipes and hook ups makes the prospect of love seem ever more distant. But looking for deep relationships is not optional if we hope to live a good life. Growing in our own capacity to be better friends and partners requires hard work, self-reflection, and intention- but if we do it, and form meaningful and supportive relationships, our lives will be transformed. This year I am going to work on pouring more time into a few key friendships, as well as trying to strengthen some long-distance friendships I have. How can you invest in meaningful relationships this year?
VISION: All of us need something that gives us hope for a better tomorrow. For many of us, this is faith and spiritual practice. For others, it may be political or social engagement. For many of us, it’s both. But in an increasingly conflicted era of human history, we all desperately need to participate in something that will help ground us in the present moment and cause us to press forward towards the future with hope. For me, I am going to continue to be involved in my church community, am intentionally going to engage with the spiritual works of Norman Vincent Peale, Reinhold Neihbur, and A Course In Miracles this year. I am also going to participate in a meditation class once a week at a local yoga studio. These activities will keep me grounded and looking forward to create a better tomorrow- both spiritually and socially. What will be your source of vision and hope this year?
WELLBEING: Our physical and mental health are perhaps the most important aspects of living a fulfilled life. If we are in pain, constantly sick, or not managing and strengthening our mental health, every other aspect of our lives will be diminished. This year, I am committing to do a simple workout at home for 1 hour four times a week, going to a fitness class three times a week, and going to counseling twice a month. I am also intentionally trying to cut my habit of eating frozen or fast food every day and begin to cook my own meals that are healthy and are guiding me towards creating the body and overall health that I desire. In counseling, I am seeking to work through some old traumas that still impact my ability to function in the way I desire today. My hope is that by 2021, I will be able to look back and see measurable growth in my mental and physical wellbeing. How will you invest in your mental and physical wellbeing this year?
CONTENTMENT: One of the greatest causes of suffering in the Western world is our lack of contentment. Capitalism has driven us to believe that more is better. More money. More stuff. Bigger houses. Lavish trips. Our instagram culture only exacerbates this, as we look at the highlight reels of others’ lives and a driven more and more to desire it for ourselves. While it is not wrong to want wealth or to be financially stable, it is more important that we learn to live simply and find contentment with what we have right now. This year, I am going to intentionally try to live on about 85% of my salary, saving and giving the rest of the money away. This not only will help me pay down debt and be financially secure, but it will force me to fight the urges to spend more and help me cherish what I do have. How will you choose to live simply and be content this year?
WORK: Meaningful work is essential to having a meaningful life. No matter who you are, no matter what skills you have, you should seek out opportunities to do kinds of work that exercise skills you have and that bring you joy. This doesn’t mean you’ll absolutely love your job- but it means that the work that you do is in alignment with who you are and ultimately enhances your life rather than drains it. That could mean leaving your job as a waiter in order to be a barista, or stepping down as an account executive in order to be in IT. It could also mean working a job that’s not your favorite so with the rest of your time you can pursue your chosen career of music or writing. This year, I am intentionally going to seek to pour myself into the work of pastoring and regular writing- and allow other things to take the back burner. These two vocations give me life and get me excited to get out of bed every day. How can you position yourself to be engaged in meaningful work this year?
PLEASURE: You were made to feel good. Engaging in things like rest, vacations, massages, and sex are often made out to feel excessive and wrong. We rarely feel good about taking regular time for ourselves to just feel good. But pleasure is a tool that has been given to recharge and rejuvenate us for the times when our lives are hard and strenuous. It’s important that we make a regular habit of engaging in pleasurable activities- as a reward for the hard work and energy we put into the rest of our weeks. This year, I am fighting against my Enneagram 3 nature and learning that it’s okay just to relax- to take a nap, going on a hike, binge watch Netflix, cuddle with a friend, or schedule a regular massage. We are human beings, not human doings, as the saying goes. We need time to recharge and simply to feel good. How are you going to intentionally set aside time for pleasure this year?
These are the eight areas that I have identified that seem hard-wired into humans as essentials to living a purposeful existence. When we break it down this simply, it becomes easy to plug in different activities or resolutions to fulfill each of these inner desires, and thus, create a more fulfilling life. So, as we start this new year, I want to encourage you to take time and write out how you realistically intend to fill each of these categories in your own life, and then intentionally seek to live into those goals each and every day. Because you were made to enjoy life. But it takes some planning to make that a reality.
Are there any other categories that you think are essential to living a fulfilled life? Any that I’ve listed that you don’t feel are essential? Comment below!