FOR A LIFE to be meaningful, it doesn’t need to be unique—and yet many of us believe that’s necessary. We’re convinced we lack something special, and that paralyzes us. This is a mistake, says the philosopher Iddo Landau, who argues that everybody already possesses what they need for a meaningful existence. We just need to look harder.
I’ve spent years researching and educating myself on how to find and cultivate purpose. This helped me to develop a process to guide clients, as they seek to construct a fulfilling post-career life. A large pile of dollars isn’t enough. Instead, to create a more meaningful life, we need to spend more time thinking about ourselves and the world around us. Through this, I learned one way we can discover our purpose and add meaning to our life: turn suffering into healing.
That brings me to our 13-year-old dog Samantha, a redbone coonhound. She was approaching the end of her life. What we didn’t know was if or when to intervene. We had several discussions with our vet, Dr. Rick White, seeking his counsel. After an exceptionally rough week for Samantha, we knew it was time.
Shortly after arriving at his office, White greeted us. The exam room was different than what we were used to. The lights were low, there was a comfortable bed on the floor for Samantha and a couch for us. White immediately sat on the floor, at Samantha’s level, and lovingly talked to her, like you would to an old friend. He walked us through the entire process, assuring us that Samantha would experience no pain and, in fact, would feel peace.
His demeanor was compassionate and calming, and his words wise. He listened with keen interest as we recounted our favorite things about Samantha and, when appropriate, interjected his own stories. Mostly, he made us feel as if we were the only people at the vet practice and, like us, Samantha was also his own.
When the tears streamed down our faces, he encouraged our emotions. He noted our humanity and our deep love, remarking, “It’s the ones that don’t get choked up, or show emotion, that I worry about.” He was comfortable with and comforted by our tears. Throughout the procedure, he knew what to say, when to say it and how to say it.
Perhaps the greatest gift he gave us was perspective. He reminded us that most people in this world do not pass away surrounded by their loved ones and the people they trust the most. We should all be so lucky when our time comes.
Meaning and purpose arise not just from intrinsic traits, but also from our connection to others. Using our time and money to cultivate those connections is one of the best possible investments, helping to make today more fulfilling and the end of our life more peaceful. When we thanked White for his excellent care over the years, he responded, “There is nothing else I’d rather do.”
Anika Hedstrom, MBA, CFP, is a personal finance expert and advisor. Her previous articles include Effort Counts Twice, Stay in Your Lane and Known and Unknown. Anika writes on motivational and behavioral aspects of financial planning, and has been featured in USA Today, MarketWatch, Huffington Post, Business Insider and NPR. Always up for adventure, Anika can be found exploring new countries, whitewater rafting and chasing after her twins. Follow her on Twitter @AnikaHedstrom.