Use These 5 Ordinary Methods to Discover What You Really Want in Life
Are you feeling lost in life? Maybe you’ve recently come out, ended a relationship, or gone through a major life event. Or maybe you’re just trying to make sense of how to live your life during a global pandemic.
As gay men, it’s sometimes hard for us to “find our place” in the community. Do we follow what our friends or partners are doing? Or do we look to the media, advertisements, or the latest TikTok video to find what we want in life?
Sometimes it’s hard to discover what we want deep down, and what we actually care about. Because we receive so many messages from society everyday about what to do, how to act, how to look, what to eat, etc.
This can be especially true for gay men when a lot of us so desperately want to be accepted for who we are. Trying to fit in, and not knowing what we want, can become completely overwhelming. So we continue with what we’ve always done. Eventually this can even lead us to feel lost, anxious, and depressed (maybe you can relate).
I’ve talked about mindfulness in previous articles (here and here). But a little known fact is that mindfulness can also be used to learn more about yourself.
The five senses approach
You can take the five senses approach and use this as a framework to examine what you actually enjoy in your everyday life. This can also help you to look at the things that are taking away joy.
You might not have, or want to use, all the senses in this article. And that’s okay. Regardless of what senses are available to you, even examining just one of these areas can be a powerful experience.
Above all else, the number one thing is to honestly assess if you find the following things meaningful, important and fulfilling–not if you “should” be enjoying them. This process of self-discovery is just for you. No one else.
When you engage in things that bring you joy, you can feel more fulfilled, and your mental health can improve.
Let me show you how:
Are the things you’re eating and drinking during the day actually bringing you pleasure? How do you truly feel after a meal, both physically and emotionally?
When you’re eating or drinking something, are you quickly scarfing it down and tolerating it, or are you slowly savouring the flavours and engaging in the entire experience?
This isn’t about evaluating if the food we’re eating or things we’re drinking are “good” or “bad.” In mindfulness you can take a non-judgemental stance. It’s about examining if you’re getting value and benefit from the products that you’re consuming. If you find the items you’re consuming make you feel worse, then here’s a chance to experiment.
Try something new and see what brings you joy!
What are the textures and physical sensations that you enjoy? Maybe you find yourself wearing the same items everyday, sitting in the same chair everyday, and wearing the same shoes everyday. Are those items that your body makes contact with actually comfortable? Pain and discomfort can significantly impact your mental health. So surrounding yourself with items that are genuinely comfortable is important. Are there certain sensations you need more of in your life?
Think about sensations that you like. Maybe it’s the sun gently warming your face on an autumn’s day, curling up on the couch with a warm cup of tea to watch your favourite show, or taking a long warm bath.
Of all our senses, smell can bring back some of the strongest memories and emotions. So use that to your advantage.
What are the smells you currently smell each day, and do they benefit your life? When you leave the house, do you take a moment to breath in the fresh air? If your house is devoid of pleasurable smells, then it might be worth looking into incense, essential oils, or scented candles that you enjoy.
Or perhaps you’ve noticed the opposite: that scented products make you feel physically unwell and that you need to remove these from your life. Again, the point is to not judge things as “good” or “bad,” but to truly examine how things in your life help or harm you.
Are the sounds and messages you’re hearing in a day helpful? Do they bring your mood up?
A quiet environment can be just what some of us need. But for a lot of people, silence can also lead to boredom, which can then quickly lead to negative thinking. If you find that this is the case for you, try listening to some uplifting or calming music. Music can be incredibly therapeutic. In fact, there’s even a whole therapeutic approach called music therapy.
Music not your thing? Try an audio book or podcast instead to “anchor” your attention to something other than negative thoughts.
Hearing is also about examining what messages you want more of in your life and what messages you want less of. It might mean limiting and turning off different types of media if they’re bringing down your mood.
“Hearing” can even extend to the conversations you have with people around you and online.
At the end of the day, what are the messages in your life that you want to hear more of?
Humans tend to be very visually-oriented creatures. Particularly for gay men, there can be a lot of external ideas about what to surround yourself with in order to have an instagram-worthy life that looks “right.”
But are the things you look at in your daily environment bringing you joy? Because sight is such a big part of many people’s lives, you can think about it from a few different angles:
What’s in your “home” environment?
Look around you right now and ask yourself if what you see actually brings you joy, or if what you’re looking at is what other people have said should bring you joy.
If you’re seeing a lot of what other people have told you to surround yourself with, that’s okay. It means that you care about what other people think, and this isn’t an inherently bad thing.
The problem is when our concern about what other people think pushes our desires out of the way and our lives have very little of ourselves in them.
So have a look around you again. Where do you see yourself? And if you don’t see yourself, what small ways could you start building your home environment to reflect what personally brings you joy?
What’s in your “digital” environment?
Do you feel stressed when you see a notification that you’ve received a new email? How many of us will check that notification right away, even if we have no intention of fully reading or replying to the email?
Quick tip: if at all possible, switch some (or all) of your notifications off. This lets you check things on your own time rather than a notification interrupting the important times in your life.
What’s in your “natural” environment?
Research shows that being in nature is an excellent way to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Even looking at pictures of nature can give us some of these beneficial effects.
So what’s in your natural environment? Maybe you have some plants in your home, on your balcony, or in your yard.
If you think about your natural environment more broadly, what areas do you go to that let you experience nature? Maybe it’s a park, a local forest, or even appreciating a view from your home.
Of course, when you’re in nature you can engage more senses than just sight. Experiment with your different senses in nature one at a time, and see what you like.
Give it a try today
Hopefully you’ve been able to take an idea (or five) from this article that you can start implementing right away.
Self-exploration, even if it’s good for us, can be hard. So start slow, explore one of the five senses and see what in your daily life you’d like more of, or less of.
Going through this process is a great way to start connecting with what you really want in life. I do this myself, and I’ve also had clients who’ve found it very helpful.
So give it a try today–you might even surprise yourself. 🙂
RCC, MSW, RSW
As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Victor excels at helping gay men find freedom from anxiety, stress and overwhelm so that they can start living life to the fullest again. Interested in working with Victor? Click the button below to get started.