Nathanael Garrett Novosel, September 6 2023

You Can Find Meaning in Whatever Happens to You

Meaning is subjective; as such, you can decide that something has significance to you or decide that everything is stupid and meaningless. While this sounds like nothing in life really matters, it’s actually more positive than that. The best takeaway for your mental health and well-being is that you can take anything your life, find its meaning to you, and find more fulfillment and appreciation about everything that happens—good or bad. Let me explain.

There are plenty of examples of people turning tragedies, setbacks, or even jokes into a fulfilling career. There is the one that I mention the most, John Walsh, whose child was kidnapped and he turned it into a career fighting crime and helping families protect and save their children. But there are plenty more: there is the Blind Surfer, who lost his eyesight and now is a social media personality talking about his life experiences and his surfing hobby. There is Mark Zuckerberg, who took his skills in web development and refocused it away from people judging each other on the web (FaceMash) toward helping to connect people with Facebook. The only difference between these kinds of people and others is that instead of deciding that nothing they did mattered and their lives were helpless because their child was kidnapped, they lost their eyesight, or they were just screwing around as a college student with stupid hot-or-not ratings, they chose to realize that these life experiences gave them the skill and/or the will to do something constructive, creative, or productive going forward.

Now, this habit often derails into a philosophical conversation about whether life is a serious of random, pointless events or an intelligent design with divine guidance along the way to help you do what you need to do in life. And there’s no doubt that this mentality will strongly predispose you to find meaning in life events or not. But having either of these opinions is unnecessary to getting value from this insight: you can choose whether to take something away from any experience or not. It’s that simple. This is true regardless of what you believe: if you believe in signs from God or the universe but ignore one, then most religious or spiritual people will tell you that your ignoring them will mean that they will stop coming. Similarly, if you believe that life is random, you can still choose to see the connection between overhearing a story or rant from a stranger in public and getting the inspiration to write a hit rock song (this story happened a lot in history, as evidenced by the number of Professor of Rock videos with this as the impetus for song lyrics). Something doesn’t have to have been intentional for it to have meaning to you; it just has to be something that led to a positive outcome for you.

Knowing this, the resulting benefit to you is that you can take anything that happens to you—good or bad—and find its value to you. If you miss a train or a flight, you can tell yourself that something bad probably would’ve happen had you made it (this famously happened with Seth Macfarlane, who missed a flight that crashed on 9/11/2001). If you don’t get a promotion or job offer, you can tell yourself that something better suited for you will come along next. And here’s the kicker: the people who see the world this way usually end up, through self-fulfilling prophecy (for the atheists) or divine support (the theists), finding ways to use anything that happens to them to make their lives better. Tom Brady used his late-round draft selection to fuel his ambition to become the greatest quarterback of all time. Steven Spielberg was famously fascinated as a child with shooting stars and so put them in his films as a fun Easter Egg—whether they actually have any intrinsic significance or are completely random doesn’t matter.

And that’s what you can take away from finding meaning in life events: if you see things as meaningless, you’ll likely take nothing away from things that happen to you and live your life the same as you did before. But if you choose to learn from your experiences and take those happy occurrences as meaningful steps along your journey, you’ll be more likely to try to take away things and grow vs. dismissing them.

So the question isn’t whether the things that happen to you matter or not—that’s for you to decide, not for someone to tell you definitively yes or no. The real question is whether you can make the things that happen to you in life by becoming a better person going forward as a result of them: can you appreciate that good fortune as validation that you are on the right path or find the silver lining that will allow you to see how that bad thing needed to happen for you to be where you are in life? Because when you look at it that way—and it’s a basic truth that you can only be where you are based on what you’ve done to get there—you get more from your life experiences and can even look at everything life—even the bad things that happen—in a more positive manner that help you to remain mentally and emotionally strong as you go through life.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


Previous Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
Next Something to Live for