Mindfulness: Considering Meaning and Happiness

Uncertainty was the norm for 2020 and it was the name of the game for Fall semester at GMU. When James and his assistant started to decide what classes would be good take (with an eye on trying to be on campus), this class on Mindfulness seemed a good fit considering all that was going on. Integrative Studies 355- Mindfulness, Meaning and Well Being. It is taught by a well known and beloved professor and it ended up being a really helpful class. The daily practices taught and the idea of being able to control one’s thoughts through meditation was very powerful for James. As our readers know, people with autism have trouble with emotional regulation and anxiety. Add a pandemic, disruption to normal life and it is a tough combination with autism. We saw a big improvement with James’s self regulation and he’s done a great job applying these principles. Full disclosure, the holidays were tough and winter seems to be endless, but in general this has been a fantastic tool for him. I thought I would share some of the entries from his Mindfulness journal. We are always looking to learn and share what helps!

Journal Entry on Happiness and Meaning:

My first week of practicing the well-being practices I chose has been very helpful and eye-opening. I decided to implement practices to strengthen optimism and emotional and cognitive flexibility. To do so, I have written down a positive expectation each day and prayed the Serenity Prayer daily and reflected on it afterwards. What I have found to be the most helpful has been the time I have spent reflecting. I do pray often when I get anxious. However, this well-being practice of thinking and reflecting on my feelings and thoughts after I have prayed is new. I find it to be calming but also enlightening in many ways. I am more aware of my feelings and what “works” for me. I also am able to identify certain feelings. Many of my past “meltdowns” can be attributed to not being able to truly identify my uneasiness, tension, reason for anxiousness, etc. Exploring my own thoughts and feelings in a reflective way has been very calming and helpful. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of practicing these well-being practices and making them permanent life skills and habits. 

Dr. Viktor Frankl describes the definition of meaning as a certain level of resiliency. Specifically, he states that we have the freedom to choose to become a certain way despite our conditions and circumstances. He further explains that despair can be understood as “suffering without meaning”. I found this very interesting because I do agree that suffering can always lead to a lesson or meaning that we can gain from. However, I think it is worth noting that many times meaning found in suffering can take many years to discover. While finding meaning in suffering is very important, I have found through my experience that it is equally important to find positive things to be grateful for in order to have the mindset of positivity during suffering. Personally, I have had a long journey finding the meaning in my life. I have struggled with asking “why me” for many years. I could not find solace as to why I was not given the ability to talk and move with the freedom as most people. Through prayer and family support, and seeing and hearing my own thoughts finally be communicated through other means, I was able to see the meaning of my suffering. Small victories along the way helped me remain hopeful. Dr. Frankl’s logotherapy pinpoints three arenas of life that lead to finding meaning. They are accomplishments, loving relationships, and meeting unavoidable suffering/adversity. I have definitely experience and found meaning in all three of these arenas. I feel that my achievements in my academic classes and ventures have helped me find meaning and purpose in my life. I have felt useful, when I used to feel useless. Loving relationships have been the foundation of my feelings of belonging and meaning throughout my life. Although I have felt as though I belong on an island at times, because no one seems to be like me or much less understand me, my family and extended family and friends have shown me so much love and support that my life’s meaning to them is undeniable. Lastly, meeting suffering of being nonverbal and being denied an education for many years has added the most meaning to my life because it has taught me that I can overcome anything and be a stronger person because of it.