In my last post I wrote about how happiness is usually found through self-centered pursuits, and meaning comes from helping others and sacrificing to benefit a larger group. Happiness is awesome, but it’s often short lived and vulnerable to illness and bad luck. Meaning is more durable.
I described a day when I was irritable and out of sorts, and I found my equilibrium through volunteering at a hunger supper with my kids, a monthly routine that brings meaning to my life.
The next day at the gym, my friend Bryan said he thought I was going to say I found meaning through my children – not feeding the homeless.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few days.
Bryan and his wife are expecting their first child, so the topic of meaning through children is on his mind. He’s getting used to the idea of having a kid, and what that will mean for his life.
It’s not that kids don’t bring meaning, but it’s hard to experience the weight of that meaning when you’re rushing the kids off to school, nagging them to do their homework, and trying to figure out how the bathroom floor turns into a lake after their showers. (Really, it's astonishing. Do they do mid-shower laps around the bathroom? Stand there post-shower, contemplating the world's mysteries?)
When your child first arrives, life does change. Your priorities shift. Children do bring meaning to your life, absolutely.
They are also part of your routine. I love my kids, I think about them and their needs constantly, and truly enjoy spending time with them, but I don’t always look at them and think, “my life has meaning.”
I usually think, “please don't ask me what’s for dinner.”
There are of course moments when that meaning hits like a truck. My husband had one last night, when he came home and our eight year old son was dancing to the Mary Poppins soundtrack in his underwear.
“This is what I hoped it would be like to have kids,” he said.
But not every night is a Mary Poppins dance party, and sometimes you have to pursue meaning a little more aggressively. It's so easy to fall into a routine, and get into your head, and take all the wonderful people in your life -- big and small -- for granted.
Just like you need to focus on both nutrition AND exercise, I think it's important to make connections both inside and outside your home.