How to Find Purpose and Meaning in Challenging Times

When we take a moment to look inward, we can tap into something deeper that allows us to better cope with our current fears and challenges.

As we all search for ways to continue to adapt to the challenges and added stress of our new normal, we can also take this opportunity to look at our situation through a new lens. Social distancing is challenging (and for many, like first responders and other essential workers, it’s not an option). But for the majority of us who are staying in, this time can present a new opportunity to look inward and connect with our sense of purpose and meaning in new ways.

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At Thrive they asked their community to share the different ways they’re looking inward and finding inspiration during this time. Which of these tips will you try?

Do an end-of-day gratitude review

“Before I go to bed at night, I write down a few good things that went well in my day. According to positive psychology professor Dr. Martin Seligman, the end-of-day review works because it shifts your focus from the things that could go wrong to the things you take for granted that actually go right. It’s been allowing me to look inward each night and reframe my day.”

—Rahim Moosa, executive coach, Toronto, Canada

Slow down your morning routine 

“I appreciate not having to rush in the morning. I take the time to do some meditation and breathing exercises when I wake up, and take the time to prepare snacks and meals during work breaks. On weekends, I am decluttering one room at a time using Microsteps, so it doesn’t become an overwhelming task. I realised how much joy and peace it gives me to accomplish these little steps every day.”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA

Enjoy music

“This time of isolation has actually brought me closer to what I do on a daily basis as a conductor. I didn’t realise just how much non-musical activities have been distracting me in life — administration, politics, and just the business of living. As I dive more deeply into studying the music itself as well as the composers who wrote it, I find myself more and more refreshed, inspired, hopeful, and purposeful. I am truly grateful to be able to participate in such a fundamental form of emotional connection with others through music — even if it isn’t live and in-person at the moment.”

—Stephen P. Brown, conductor, UK and the US

Give back 

“I’m using this time to give back. The antidote to helplessness is helpfulness. I’m focusing on where I can help others in need. That’s either at home with my family, within my community, and if possible on a larger global scale.”

—Jannell MacAulay, Ph.D., USAF retiree, speaker, and consultant, Ogden Valley, UT

Try conscious breathing

“I find renewal in conscious breathing and appreciation. The noise of the news, the enormity of the moment, and the losses humanity faces are overwhelming. Stopping to breathe, and making a conscious choice to draw in air and life force, helps me tap into inspiration and spirituality.”

—Judith Lukomski, CEO, Dana Point, CA


“As a child, I was fascinated by painting, but the passion took a step back as I grew up and got busy with my career. Still, I feel that colors are a great way to bring positivity, brightness, and happiness to our lives. When I hold my brushes in my hand, they bring me joy, freedom, and creativity. Painting has helped me dive deep inside myself and know myself better.”

—V. Rashmi Rao, writer and digital marketer, Hyderabad, India

Make time for things that bring you joy

“Somewhere amid COVID-19, I felt that I had become out of balance, and needed a reset. On a call with my meditation teacher, she asked me where my heart is. Those words hit like a ton of bricks, and inspired me to bring joy back into my life, even in this challenging time. I’ve decided to seek conditions that cause joy to arise — like petting my dog, FaceTiming with my grandkids, or cooking a favorite dish. It’s also inspired me to eliminate conditions that cause the suppression of joy. I turn off the news, avoid reading Facebook, and avoid toxic people.”

—Cindi Gilbertie, Ed.D., educational psychologist, Indio, CA

Bring back an old hobby

“I’ve always wanted to find some free time to write. I remember as a teenager I would spend hours writing and completely immersing myself in different types of writing projects. As I reached adulthood, I found myself so busy with work, relationships, and motherhood, that it seemed almost impossible to find a time to isolate for a few hours and be alone just with my mind. Even with my kids at home, I feel like now is my chance to write again.”

—Desiree Arce, financial professional, Indiana

Spend quality time with your kids

“I’m using this time to play and bond with my three-year-old son who is home with me because of his daycare closing. I’m also taking moments to sit in quiet, take deep breaths, and appreciate my environment. It’s amazing how these simple things are clearing my mental space and decreasing anxiety.”

—Brittney Smith, housing specialist, Montgomery, AL

Try the “six-count belly breath”

“I use a six-count belly breath to keep myself centered and add meaning to my day. The practice has been shown to slow down your heart rate and calm your nervous system. Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your diaphragm. Picture your torso as a glass. When you breathe in through your nostrils, you fill that glass from the bottom to the top, from your stomach up to your shoulders. As you breathe out through your nostrils, empty the glass slowly from your shoulders down. Repeat the six-counts for a few minutes.”

—Natalie, writer, St. Paul, MN

Write down your dreams

“I’ve been diving deeper by spending more time with my dreams. I am dreaming more often and more intensely during this time, and I think this is a general trend. Before the world turned upside down, I had started running a class on how to engage with your own dreams. I am trying all of the exercises out on myself: journaling my dreams, sketching them, mulling them over, and sharing them with others. I’m a bit of a stoic, but my dreams have dropped me into a sense of how I’m really feeling, and the exercises and sharing have given me a chance to metabolize those feelings.”

—Dr. Leslie Ellis, author and teacher, Palm Desert, CA