What excites you? What awakens your sense of purpose? What gives your life meaning?
On any journey, these are piercing and vital questions. But after my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and began her quest toward new and deeper sources of meaning, these questions took on fresh life for me. I realized that I, too, was lingering in my own search for meaning. I wasn’t entirely fulfilled in my career and, so, I decided to take the leap – to earn my doctorate studying meaning in life for people with PD.
To be clear, being diagnosed with Parkinson’s does not reduce your meaning or change your life’s significance. We are all here with purpose; we matter – Parkinson’s or not. But living with PD can shift the way you consider your identity and make your mind flood with new questions about what gives your life meaning. You may wonder, “Should I keep working?” “Can I continue to be a good spouse or partner? A good parent?” “Can I still do the things I love?” Thus begins a journey not to find meaning – we are inherently meaningful – but to reimagine who we are and what ignites us. Ultimately, meaning is about refining one’s identity – how do we see ourselves?
When we travel challenging new roads or navigate loss, it can feel particularly difficult this time of year to discover within ourselves the flames of purpose and joy, but connecting to our sense of meaning is always possible if we choose to pursue it. To cultivate meaning and positivity this holiday season, I have a few tried-and-true suggestions:
Relationships give us meaning, so focus on people rather than things.
Service offers us a sense of purpose. This season and all year long, show up for someone else. Perhaps you can support someone who’s newly diagnosed with PD by sharing your experience or help out at a support group. Do for those in need.
Engage in the activities you love – take walks, spend time with loved ones, anything that brings you joy.
Be kind. Kindness uplifts us all.
Practice gratitude. Focus on what you have rather than what you may have lost. It’s difficult to remain stuck in an impoverished place mentally if you’re grateful.
I truly believe that it’s our attitude in life that makes all the difference. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, neurologist, and one of the first meaning in life pioneers, wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude…to choose one’s own way.” When we choose to cultivate meaning, it inspires us; it decreases apathy, depression, and even cognitive decline. It improves our wellbeing in body and mind. And it nourishes our relationships.
The one commodity we all have a limited supply of is time. How we choose to spend it affects not only us but those we love. I encourage you to be intentional this holiday season and bask in the glow of renewed meaning.
Go deeper by watching the replay of Dr. McDaniels’ “Finding Meaning While Living with Parkinson’s” talk from our online wHolistic!™ series. Finding Meaning when Living with Parkinson’s – wHolistic!™ – October 18, 2021 – YouTube
About Bradley McDaniels, PhD, CRC
Brad is an Assistant Professor and Rehabilitation Studies Undergraduate program coordinator in the Department of Rehabilitation and Health Services at the University of North Texas (UNT). Prior to joining UNT, Brad earned his PhD from the University of Kentucky in Rehabilitation Counseling and subsequently accepted an Advanced Rehabilitation Research and Training Post-Doctoral Fellowship appointment, in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was focused exclusively on Parkinson disease. Brad’s research interests include psychosocial adaptation, quality of life, meaning in life, and apathy in people with Parkinson disease.