What will inspire and sustain you?

Most people desire meaning and purpose in their lives, but it doesn't necessarily "just happen." It usually takes searching (including soul-searching), planning, trial and error and sometimes going back to the drawing board before you create the daily life that fulfills you. The elements of a healthful and meaningful life can take many forms. This section begins with a pragmatic discussion about work choices, followed by some thought-provoking ideas on friendship and spirituality, and finally, a list of ideas and quotes from contributors on and off-campus.


Your work ...and play!

One of the most practical steps you can take toward life-long fulfillment is to choose work that you find meaningful. After all, this is how you will probably spend the bulk of your waking hours. Many people find enjoyment in work that interests them at a deep level; others achieve satisfaction from work that offers them the means to meet current and future family responsibilities. It is not uncommon for people to have several careers in their lifetime, depending on their changing interests, needs and life circumstances. As a college student embarking on perhaps your first career, you might be asking yourself any number of questions:

1. What are my true interests?
2. What are my aptitude and skills?
3. Is my major right for my career interests?
4. Can I match my creative interests with financial needs?
5. How will I know if I will like a particular job or career?
6. Will the career I'm headed for be meaningful?
7. Will I be able to grow as an individual and professional in the career I am considering?
8. What if I don't want a classic job? What are the options?
9. Which careers offer the resources and freedom to live a balanced life?
10. If my career interests are different from my family's ideas, how should I proceed?
11. What if I have no idea what I want to do now or when I graduate?
12. How do I get these questions answered?

There is quite a lot help available on campus just for the asking. You can start by taking advantage of the career services at University Health Services. By calling (510) 642-9494, you can sign up to take aptitute tests and interest screenings, go over the results with a counselor (who will also help you draw conclusions); then take what you have learned to the Career and Educational Guidance Library to learn how to apply this newfound knowledge of yourself. There is no extra charge for this; as with many services at UHS, it is covered by your registration fees. Also see Career Exploration Links.

Don't forget about having fun!
Okay, let's say you find the perfect career and you love it so much, it consumes you, and you feel no need for outside interests. Well, that may be the good news and the bad news. Let's just say, for most people, it's best to balance your work life - no matter how much you like it -- with your leisure-time pursuits, whether this means a hobby, time spent with your family or friends, recreational activities, exercising, joining a club or volunteering in the service of others. Most people are very happy when they lose themselves in an enjoyable activity (and even more so when they lose themselves in the process of helping others.) The campus abounds with opportunities for establishing activities in your life that bring you pleasure and fulfillment. See Activities and Recreation on the UC Berkeley web site. It includes information on sports clubs, clubs, organizations, volunteering and you-name-it.

Social support is all-important

Studies confirm what many of us know intuitively about the benefits of a strong social support system. People with close, confiding friendships are less anxious and depressed and are physically healthier. Sharing feelings with loved ones has been shown to increase our immune response. Even when battling a serious illness, people who are part of a support group and have supportive friends and family tend to live longer. For many people, being surrounded by loving relationships helps fulfill their day-to-day need for sustenance.

Campus life offers many opportunities to initiate and develop friendships. It's not always easy though, especially if you have a quiet or shy temperament. Sometimes students feel guilty about spending time with friends--that it takes away from their study time. In truth, investing in friendships does require time and effort. But it is a worthwhile investment that will make you feel happier and less stressed. Lower stress levels increase your ability to concentrate and learn when you do study, which ultimately contributes to your success.

Think about the people in your life. Is there someone you could call right now to invite to a movie? If you're feeling stuck with a homework assignment, which friend could you approach for help? Is there someone you can confide in?

If you would like to have more friends, or you would like to deepen your current friendships, consider the following:

  • An obvious place to make new friends is class. Smile at your classmates. Sit next to someone new in class and start up a conversation. Some possible conversation starters: make a comment or ask a question about the last lecture, reading, or problem set; offer a compliment (you like their clothes, the question they asked); or help out (you noticed they were out last week, offer to lend them your notes).
  • Get involved in activities you enjoy, and you will improve your chances of meeting someone with mutual interests. Check out student clubs, exercise classes, volunteer opportunities.
  • Set aside time at least twice a week to be with a friend. Chat, laugh, study, go for a walk, or work through a conflict (even good friends fight!).
  • Be open to different kinds of friendships. Not all of them need to be based on a deep, emotional connection. You might have exercise friends with whom you enjoy lighthearted conversation. Some friendships last only a little while, perhaps just the duration of a semester or class project. Others friendships you make at Cal may last a lifetime.
  • Let close friends take care of you. Do you tend to take care of others a lot? Are you private about your needs? Allow yourself to be vulnerable and receive help and emotional support from others.
  • Enjoy online and email friendships, if you wish. But remember to have a balance of "live" friendships. There is no substitute for conversation and affection from a friend sitting next to you.

Consider Spirituality

Many people find meaning in spiritual beliefs. For some this includes a belief in a "higher power." Others enjoy spiritual meaning and satisfaction from beliefs that do not include a "higher power." Many take part in spiritual practices such as prayer (using words, chanting, meditation, silence, etc.).

There is a growing body of evidence that prayer not only can comfort and support, but that prayer can actually bring about healing. Some of the research suggests that individuals experience fewer medical symptoms and a more overall favorable outcome with life-threatening diseases when they combine spirituality with more traditional medical practices. For example, in a study of 393 patients conducted by California cardiologist Randolph Byrd, those receiving prayer support needed fewer medications and fewer medical procedures.

Do you have spiritual beliefs and practices? If not, is this an area of possible exploration for you? Take the time to reflect on what is meaningful to you in your life. How are you in relation to the world? How do you choose to embrace the world?

Things to try:

  • Create a "spiritual" book. Find passages from sacred writings, novels, poems, essays that speak to you. Include some of your own original writings.
  • Write down what you believe or find meaningful in life. If you wish, share your unique statement of belief and meaning with a friend or family member.
  • Create some quiet time every day for reflection, prayer, or meditation. Sometimes when we are quiet and still, spiritual insights emerge, day-to-day or long-term priorities surface, or a sense of calmness or peacefulness rejuvenates our tired body and mind.
  • Write a letter to an imaginary future grandchild. Share your wisdom about what is important in life or what makes for a happy life.
  • Consider author Wayne Muller's question: "How shall I live, knowing I will die?" Write down your thoughts and feelings.

Other sources of inspiration and sustenance : Ideas and quotes gathered from contributors on and off campus

Be a lifelong learner

  • Learn about your roots (family, cultural history).
  • Stay close to your personal history.
  • Challenge yourself and accept challenges to do your very best.
  • Set goals and continue to move toward them.
  • Be a "beginner" at something. Learn a new craft, musical instrument. Explore a new field of study.

Heroes/mentors/role models

  • Consider as mentors people who give the gift of time (e.g. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter).
  • Read biographies of people who have been recognized by others for their wisdom.
  • Find heroes and mentors among the famous and not famous, living and dead.
  • Find a mentor. All the wisdom traditions (religions and schools of spiritual thought) include the idea that there's somebody wiser than you from whom you can learn.
  • "Seeing someone do something really generous and noticing that it didn't occur to them to do anything differently, makes me more inclined to do the same."
  • "I've been in and out of labs since age 3 and I've met lots of Nobel Prize winners (my dad included). They inspire me to achieve and make a difference in the world."
  • "My mom, my dad...are my role models."
  • "People and leaders who have put their lives on the line for me like Caesar Chavez and queer leaders."

An open heart

  • Hold on to the promise or possibility of love.
  • "The purpose of life is to love; the lifetime task is to learn what this means. Loving relationships sustain me."
  • "Continue to open ourselves outward to the parts of life we are often shielded from (the poor, the sad, the homeless, the oppressed."
  • "Remembering to be grateful for what I have, and knowing what I have is so much more than what most have."

Creativity and nature

  • Explore artistic and intellectual creativity. "I get energy by being creative, by seeing others' creative works, and by talking with friends and others about creative projects."
  • Realize and appreciate your connection with the earth, nature.
  • Appreciate music, flowers, art.
  • Enjoy being in nature; expand your global awareness.
  • "Consider trees--so big, strong: you look at them and feel weak. You have to do something big to overcome that feeling. We should all hug trees."

And finally…

  • "Consider our progress--we've come this far in the world."
  • "My faith: we're here for a reason. Knowing that keeps me going."

See also:
Leading a Healthful Lifestyle
How Will You Make Your Mark?
How Will You Take Care of Yourself Longterm?

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat or provide a second opinion on any health problem or disease. It is meant to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between an individual and his/her clinician.

Last reviewed: September, 2004

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