Wellness for mission success – find meaning

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a four-part series on how individual wellness contributes to mission success and why it’s beneficial for Reserve Citizen Airmen to preserve health, manage stress, create balance and find meaning.

Airmen do not have to serve. They do it because they find meaning in serving, whatever that meaning may be.

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Pat Thompson said that one way to find meaning is through spirituality. He also believes spirituality increases resilience because it gives people something to rely on and turn toward when they are struggling in their lives.

“Spirituality is the key to resilience, because spirituality, as I define, is to have a belief in something that is larger than yourself and gives your life purpose and meaning,” said Thompson.

Thompson said it’s important for people to find the things they connect with spiritually, noting a person can find spirituality nearly anywhere, including in unexpected places.

“I find more theology sometimes in novels than in sacred books,” Thompson said. “You have to be open to what is out there.”

Nicole Mayzner, 403rd Wing psychological health director, explained that when people feel like they contribute to a bigger picture, whether it be at work, in relationships or giving back to the community, this increases motivation, satisfaction and overall well-being. She also explained that a person’s purpose is why they do what they do and if someone feels like they don’t know their “why,” they can feel lost.

“Therefore, it is important to help ourselves figure out the paths we want to explore, establish our direction and execute following that roadmap,” Mayzner said.
One way Mayzner suggests to help figure out that path is to ask the question, “Where do I want to be in five years?” She said this is important to think about because it can help people focus on things they are truly passionate about and find ways to learn and grow.

“In answering this type of question for yourself, do not focus it on a job title but rather the growth you want for yourself and the means you can take to work toward achieving it,” she said.

Mayzner has several tips for those who might be struggling to find meaning.

“Take the risks,” she said. “No matter how scary they seem or how much you feel others may judge your decision, it is your life – not theirs.”

She also said that often times, the moments that are the most terrifying are the moments that create purpose, meaning and happiness in the end.

“Don’t be afraid of failure,” she said. “We all fail at different times or make mistakes or embarrass ourselves. You will not achieve your life’s purpose if you avoid things out of fear of failure.”

She added that everyone has different starting points for things in their lives and different learning curves, and they should remember that even if things don’t work out, they can walk away having learned from their experiences.

“Don’t expect to discover meaning overnight,” she said. “Although you may know someone who has had some type of life-changing event or epiphany of their life purpose, they are not the majority of us.”

Often times, she continued, a person’s purpose emerges and evolves over time as they follow their hearts, pursue their talents, or go in a direction they didn’t expect.

“Find meaning by giving back,” she said. “Whether it be volunteer work, caregiving for a family member, parenting your children, fostering shelter animals, or helping out a fellow Airman during a tough time of need, we find a sense of meaning in our lives through engaging and helping others.”
Mayzner said in positive psychology there are several building blocks considered essential factors that help people and communities flourish and make life worth living. These building blocks include positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose and accomplishment.

“When a person is able to feel a sense of meaning or purpose in their life, they are likely to experience overall satisfaction, a more optimistic outlook, love more often, be less likely to feel depressive emotions, have a positive self-esteem and feel a sense of accomplishment related to their life journey,” she said. “It is about finding the reasons you want to wake up in the morning and bettering the lives of those around you, as well as your own.”

“Finding meaning is not an external thing, it’s an internal thing,” Thompson said. “The answer is not in a book or anything else – it’s in yourself, and our job is to draw out what is within.