Finding Forty Two
What is it? Life in lockdown means many of the constants which normally structure our existence have been removed. Most of the country will not be travelling to work, or enjoying typical leisure and sporting activities. Those who are furloughed face even greater disruption to routine, and the inability to pursue tasks which usually give life purpose will leave many of us feeling bored and frustrated. This also relates to the fulfilment (or not) of our psychological needs (to socialise, hug, bond; to achieve and pursue goals; to be free, have choices, do what we want to).
We should not underestimate how our emotions can drive behaviour that flaunts social distancing guidelines. Equally, a strong sense of meaning in life is essential for general wellbeing1. As such, seeing our place in the bigger picture will help sustain societal mental health both during and after Covid-19.
Fortunately, it is still very possible for us to retain a sense of meaning in life in the face of lockdown. Our perception of meaning comes both from what we do, and how we think about what we do2. Activities we consider as ‘meaningful’ must be:
- Purposeful – build towards the achievement of a clear goal
- Significant – be important beyond the immediate future and the self
- Coherent – be consistent with someone’s identity and help them make sense of their life as a whole
We can support people to retain their sense of meaning by helping them choose and think about activities in a meaningful way3.
How to use it:
- Contributing to the Bigger Picture: The element that really separates the meaningful from the mundane is the extent to which action benefits other people – known as beneficence4. Social distancing makes it harder to physically support others, however we are still finding creative ways to connect. For example, paintings of rainbows displayed in house windows is a small, safe action, which powerfully communicates a sense of relatedness and hope.
- Overcoming Challenges Makes Us Stronger: Negative experiences can also be meaningful. Identifying how we can develop new skills in lockdown stimulates post traumatic growth – where distressing events transform how we view the world and our place in it5. Sharing the stories of those who are already doing this, such as the school teachers who are using their skills to make PPE for frontline staff, can be inspiring for many.
- Linking the Immediate with the Future: Simply knowing that purposeful, significant and coherent activities comprise a ‘formula’ for meaning helps people identify the wider implications of their activities2. For example, whilst going for a bike ride may initially seem trivial, it builds towards the long term outcome of healthy physical and mental wellbeing, as well as adhering to regulations which will save lives. Appraising situations along a continuum from their immediate/ concrete outcomes to their longer-term/ abstract outcomes can be important for developing a meaningful structure to our COVID-19 lives.
1. Ryff & Singer. Psychological Wellbeing Model. J. Happiness Stud. 9, 13–39 (2006).
2. Heine, S. J., Proulx, T. & Vohs, K. D. The Meaning Maintenance Model: On the Coherence of Social Motivations. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 10, 88–110 (2006).
3. Hooker, S. A., Masters, K. S. & Park, C. L. A Meaningful Life Is a Healthy Life: A Conceptual Model Linking Meaning and Meaning Salience to Health A Meaningful Life Is a Healthy Life: A Conceptual Model Linking Meaning and Meaning Salience to Health. Rev. Gen. Psychol. (2017). doi:10.1037/gpr0000115
4. Martela, F., Ryan, R. & Steger, M. Meaningfulness as Satisfaction of Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness, and Beneficence: Comparing the Four Satisfactions and Positive Affect as Predictors of Meaning in Life. J. Happiness Stud. 1–22 (2017). doi:10.1007/s10902-017-9869-7
5. Kashdan, T. B. & Kane, J. Q. Post-traumatic distress and the presence of post-traumatic growth and meaning in life: Experiential avoidance as a moderator. Pers. Individ. Dif. 50, 84–89 (2011).