The Emotional Energy Factor: The Secrets High-Energy People Use to Beat Emotional Fatigue
By Mira Kirshenbaum
Very, very few people stagger around hollow-eyed saying in a tragic tone of voice, "My life has no meaning." Most of us. even most people who are feeling emotionally fatigued, can point to things that give their life meaning. So, yes, we do have meaning in our lives.
But at the same time a surprising number of us do have a problem with meaning in our lives. Yes, there's a foundation of meaning, often from wanting to take care of our families. Yet we don't feel the sense of having a life charged with meaning, not the way we used to, not the way we'd like to. It's not a complete lack of a sense of meaning-it's just a shortage. But that shortage is enough to have a terrible effect on our emotional energy.
Without meaning, there's no real reason or reward for what you do. And if you do something for no reason and with no hope of reward, how in the world is that supposed to energize you?
So it's important that you pause and think about the next question for a moment. Be honest. You'll be glad you did.
I'm going to tell you about some people who thought they'd lost a sense of meaning. But don't worry. Their stories have happy endings. If you can see what they saw, your story will also have a happy ending.
The Meaning of Your Life
Cannot Be Taken for Granted
We make a huge mistake about how this whole meaning business works. We think meaning just happens. We think that the meaning of life is a given. Imagine our surprise when it goes away!
A sense of meaning is never handed to any of us on a silver platter. You can never count on your sense of purpose always looking there for you without any effort on your part, no matter how rich and deep that sense of purpose is, no matter how committed you are to it.
Let me tell you about a rabbi I knew when I was a kid. He was a saintly man. As wise and learned as he was, even more he was a good man, kind and gentle and sweet. Everyone who knew him loved him. He lived in my building. And what happened to him stayed with me my whole life.
He was in his sixties then. The Holocaust had been over for about ten years. I guess the rabbi had thought long and deep and studied and prayed endlessly all those years about what it meant that millions of Jews and millions of other people had been killed so easily, wiped away the way a puff of breath blows away dust from a tabletop.
And one day he simply stopped believing. God had been for him a fact as real and solid as a house, and one day God vanished for this rabbi. He suddenly felt he'd dedicated his life to nothing. There simply could not be a God, he concluded, who let such a thing happen.
He'd counted on meaning always being there for him. He'd never counted on having to find meaning for himself. He continued to dress like an ultra-Orthodox Jew, out of respect and habit. But prayers and synagogue and observance of rituals all ended. He was still kind to everyone, but instead of having a congregation the only Hock he tended were the pigeons who came for his crumbs in the park where I talked to him every day.
But we can never take our sense of meaning for granted. Otherwise our energy is in peril. And when our energy is in peril, we are in peril.
You're in Charge of the Meaning of Your Life
The meaning of your life is like being in shape. You have to make it happen. You have to renew it, revive it, refocus it. Yet we don't. We can't imagine how. But there are ways. And I'll show you what they are soon.
Sometimes what happens to people is less dramatic than what happened to the rabbi. But lots of us find meaning and then something terrible happens and we lose it, like when you built a tower of blocks as a kid and you were so proud, but before you could show it to your mother it collapsed.
That's what happened to Michelle. She looks fine, like the strong, sensitive person she is. But she's been drifting, and it feels as though her emotional energy is gone.