If You Don’t Understand Life, Read This

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Life is complicated and hard, isn’t it?

It seems like there’s always a tragedy, turmoil, something terrible, or something just going plain wrong.

And it’s not always the world at large. Sometimes it’s just your own world and the life around you. It’s easy to lose direction while trying to keep up with life’s responsibilities.

Furthermore, it’s not like anyone gives you a handbook on life. Do they?

Sometimes, people are fortunate to grow up happy and healthy in a good home. They have a decent example of living their life because they’ve seen how their family lived. But, of course, that may not always translate to your life. Life and society are different today than a few decades ago.

Then you have folks who didn’t live in such good circumstances. They may have grown up in a home where the only examples they had were destructive and painful. So it may be that you never had a good example of how to understand life so you could live it well because the people you were surrounded by did not.

And then there are the further complications of life like depression, anxiety, mental illness, poverty, and people’s inhumanity toward other people. All of it is overwhelming, difficult, and painful.

So how do you make sense of it all? How do you make sense of life? What is the point of life and how do you find purpose and meaning in it?

Understanding Life

Life as a core concept is not as complicated as we believe. We are born, we exist, and then we die. That is the universal experience of every single person, animal, and living thing on this planet, no matter where you come from and what you do. Period.

That sentiment is both liberating and terrifying. On the one hand, you have an experience that everything else in the world is having. You are bound by that universal experience of life. But, on the other hand, it doesn’t provide too many answers to the big questions of life. What am I doing? What is the meaning? How do I find happiness and fulfillment?

For those questions, we turn to schools of thought like philosophy and religion, which focus on understanding life. But, of course, there are as many opinions about how life should be lived as there are people living it. What’s valuable for one person may not mean anything to the next. Coming to an understanding about life is a personal journey of what calls to you.

Thus, there can be no precise understanding of life. However, we can construct some guidelines that may help you better find your own understanding and build meaning.

1. Keep up with your immediate responsibilities.

Life requires work if you want to better understand it and live it well.

First, the issue of maintaining your ability to conduct your life. Your bills need to get paid and responsibilities fulfilled. It’s much harder to build a rewarding life when you’re living rough on the streets, trying to survive daily.

Don’t fall into the trap of the enlightened guru sitting in some cave, meditating for decades to find meaning and understanding. That is either a falsified image to sell their ideas, or they have some apparatus built around them to support them.

“I sequestered myself away for a whole year to meditate!” Oh yeah? How’d you eat then? Not only is it ridiculous on the surface, but it’s also not even accurate to the belief systems it’s commonly associated with. Westerners often associate Buddhism with this image, yet you can find book after book from Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hahn, who encourage getting out and doing things to better understand yourself and the world.

Work on and build your life around you as much as possible. It’s much easier to contemplate and look for answers when you’re not freezing to death or in constant conflict with your family.

2. Be patient.

We live in a society of instant gratification that demands to be catered to right now! Right now! Right now! There is no better example of this shift than cell phones. Before cell phones, you couldn’t reach anyone and everyone at a moment’s notice. You couldn’t just text someone when they were out or at work and expect a somewhat prompt answer. If you needed to contact someone at work and it wasn’t an emergency, you may not have heard from them until the end of the work day.

But now? Now you have a device in your pocket where you can instantly reach out and touch someone and instantly be reached and touched. There are more and more people with phone anxiety. How many people joke about never picking up their phone? Or not checking their voicemail? “They should have texted.”

Google? I need my answer now! In milliseconds! Is the website not loading fast enough? I’ll click off to find something else. Movie? I can stream it right now on Netflix! News? On-demand. Groceries? Ordered online to be delivered or picked up at my convenience.

This isn’t just some old man rant. Life is better in many ways because of these conveniences. The problem is that many people come to associate other aspects of life with immediate gratification.

What if you have more to learn in life before you can find your place in it? For example, you might feel most fulfilled and happy as a nurse. However, you may never know that if you don’t do some service to people, pursue some education, and work as a nurse. That all takes time.

What would fulfill you may not be distinct at first, either. You may need more context before you find something that calls out to you. For example, perhaps the death of a loved one calls you to become a grief counselor. You may not feel that calling until you have that life experience.

Whatever it is, wherever you’re going to end up, it’s probably not going to happen overnight. It may not happen until much later in your life. And that’s also a good reason to keep up with your responsibilities, so you can pursue them if and when it comes to you.

3. Do things.

Do things. Go out and do all the things. Try to do the things that interest you and inspire you. Why? Well, doing things teaches you things. The idea of doing something may not be in line at all with the reality of doing it.

Let’s go back to the grief counseling example. Maybe you love the idea of being a counselor and helping people. However, maybe you misjudged how much stress that will be in trying to balance your mental health with your clients. Maybe you didn’t consider how much of a pain in the butt it can be to bill and deal with insurance companies to get paid. You may find that the idea of being a counselor is far better than the reality of it.

If you do your research, you may discover that it’s not for you before you ever get there. But even if you find it’s not for you, you still have a foundation of knowledge and experience you can pivot from. For example, a former counselor could easily pivot into any career requiring soft skills like management or administration.

Of course, life isn’t always about work. That wouldn’t be much of a life to live. Go do things. Try things. Try hobbies or activities you’re interested in. Don’t limit yourself there, though. Go try some activities and hobbies that you’re not really interested in. You never know where you might find something that sparks happiness and joy.

Analysis paralysis wastes so much time. “What if I don’t like it? What if I waste my time?” While they sit there and waste their time thinking about it instead of just doing it.

4. Expose yourself to new ideas and beliefs.

There are many different belief systems for understanding and living life meaningfully. Every religion and philosophy has some sort of framework for understanding life. Even the guy on the street corner likely has his own opinion.

You will need to be receptive to other perceptions and ideas if you want to find something that makes sense for you. Though we’ve already discussed the importance of “doing,” book learning is a powerful supplement. How amazing is it that you can read the words and thoughts of someone that lived thousands of years ago? How amazing is it that you can read a book today built on the foundation of thousands of years of knowledge? Of thousands of experiences of people?

And how unfortunate is it that some people are so locked into their own beliefs and perception of life that they utterly refuse to possibly entertain it? Granted, some people aren’t interested in looking any further because they already have what they need and understand life in a way that makes sense.

5. Give yourself permission to not understand.

The greatest gift you can give yourself is permission to not understand. Sometimes life is just life, and that’s how it goes. You don’t have to understand every facet of life to live it.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why not? Who among us is exempt from bad things happening?

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Because people are imperfect creatures who make poor decisions, some worse than others.

Why did my relationship end? Or my loved one have to get sick? Or did my dog get hit by a car? Or I lost my job? Or…anything?

Because that’s just life. There’s that saying that “Everything happens for a reason.” And yes, everything happens for a reason, and that reason is that you are a person experiencing life for all its good and ills. Sometimes it’s going to be terrible, and sometimes it’s going to be amazing. And a lot of times, it’s (hopefully) going to be stable for you.

6. Do talk to a mental health professional.

Sometimes, a lack of understanding or feeling overwhelmed may stem from mental health troubles that need to be addressed. Depression and anxiety can easily cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to make sense of the world around you. They can also color your perceptions of life and how to conduct it.

Professional help may be required if you are experiencing a mental health issue. If you can’t figure it out or don’t feel like you’re making any progress, a conversation with a counselor may help right the ship and get you moving in a better direction.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to deal with issues like this themselves but never really get to grips with it. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.