What is a Life Wish?
Having a Life Wish - or many - and being aware of their existence, possibilities, and sheer force can be the ultimate life energy booster! Because once we understand that we can make life-affirming wishes - we learn of the uniqueness and partly invisible nature of these personal pursuits, and we can begin to understand the nature of the journey others are on. We can see that the path we are on is similar to the way others must travel - easy or difficult. We can see them as we see ourselves in a new way, with empathy and compassion, because we know that none of us know everything about affirming life. As smart as we can be, there is no expert about us better than ourselves, and each of us is a lifelong apprentice at best.
One way to think about a Life Wish is that it's having the desire to be open and connect to the most personally inspiring and motivating aspiration for your own life.
Think of a neurosurgeon and (assuming you're not one) trying to imagine what it's like to be one. And that same neurosurgeon trying to think what it's like NOT to be one. Both of you have NO idea, really, how it feels to be that other being...on that other journey...in that other experience. There are words and language that can be used to try to explain it...but language, though it can sometimes access and invoke experience, it can't duplicate it and install it in another human being without the rework and reconstruction our own emotional and psychological lenses will do with it, to transform it in OUR rendition of the felt experience.
And yet, realizing the impossibility of one hundred percent access to the experience of others can finally give you a break from a false pursuit...and liberate you to be free to honor self-expression. A life wish, however shared, however acted on, and whatever part that is visible and held in shared awareness, can be celebrated and enjoyed for its own sake.
We're an infinite field of life wishes all so unique - alone - and yet we're all together, walking with each other. The energy, to live, is all around and in us. It's in that shared energy where all life wishes can be found and adopted.
A Life Wish can be a quest for connection to something beyond our immediate reach. It can also be a returning to contentment within ourselves. The safety and love and comfort we seek are in knowing we're all part of a life wish, a story, with chapters of our own making...our design...our own felt experience. Each life wish is the truest expression of you being you, the one and ONLY you that has ever been or will be. It's sacred and yours.
We can honor the many different expressions of life wishes all around us - to borrow some energy or gain some wisdom from the stories of others that tell us how to keep making the wishes that give our lives meaning.
I was delighted by life on a daily basis in childhood. I loved the sun, the flowers, the clouds, and dancing in the warm summer rain on my grandmother's driveway. I had dreams of what my life would be like as I continued to grow. Dreams are just multiple wishes that work together to motivate us towards something beautifully significant.
As I grew up, I traded my wishes for work. That was the wrong trade to make. I can work and still wish. My wishes can change to lift my heart and delight my mind no matter how challenging the work of adulting becomes for me. When I stopped wishing for what makes my life beautiful (in moments or other matters of importance), I lost my joie de vivre (joy of living). That joy was still available to me no matter how hard I focused on the work my life required. I had slowly traded wishes for working - the work of school, relationships, career, housework, and upkeep of self.
That trade doesn't have to be made - I can have both. I can be dedicated to living responsibly and feel proud of the work it takes to be me in the world. I can also make wishes about my life that may not be as big as the dreams I had in childhood but that brings beauty and joy into my moments, my days, or more. Maybe, we dream so much in childhood to inspire the work to be done as adults. Let's keep the inspiration alive, at whatever level we can, no matter the age.
How to make Life Wishes.
Connection Wishes, these help us invite others into a mutually respectful relationship that can become trustworthy.
"An isolated, depressed person can slowly die on the vine, believing the world is better off without him or her (or that that person is better off without the world). Thoughts of death coupled with intense negative emotion are two of the most dangerous aspects of depression. A person who keeps meaningful connections with others stays connected with life. He or she can visualize the future, making plans to keep on living and stay out of harm’s way." -Erika Krull (https://psychcentral.com/lib/social-support-is-critical-for-depression-recovery/)
Congruity Wishes, these help us stay true to ourselves with awareness, honesty, and courage.
"Rogers believed that people are inherently good and creative.They become destructive only when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process. Carl Rogers believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence." - Saul Mcleod (https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html)
Creativity Wishes, these help us express and share who we are and what we value.
"Repressed creativity can express itself in unhealthy relationships, overwhelming stress, severe neurotic or even psychotic behavior, and addictive behaviors such as alcoholism. But perhaps the most insidious and common manifestation of repressed creativity in women is depression." -C. Diane Ealy, Ph.D (The Woman's Book of Creativity)
Compassion Wishes, these help us feel love for ourselves and others, even when some people can't give it back.
"...that loving ourselves is inherently dependent on those around us. We may not struggle with appreciating our easy to love side, our positive traits, and good characteristics, but we all likely struggle to love our flaws and weaknesses. This is where the care and compassion of others can open us up to the possibility of loving even the most unlovable aspects of ourselves." -Ken Page (https://positivepsychology.com/self-compassion-exercises-worksheets/)
The free So Worthy App offers a path that provides insight into which ideas support life wishes. www.soworthy.app
1. Life Wishes are personal. They give us renewed energy to live for a moment, a day, a year, and more.
2. Life Wishes are unique. What gives one person energy is different or special to that person.
3. Life Wishes are as simple or complex as is useful to the person wishing.
4. Life Wishes allow us to open up to possibilities that bring value to living.
5. Life Wishes are always worth making.
How is self-worth and suicidal thinking linked?
Ask yourself what is worth it to you - is life one of your top responses? Do you know why you value that answer? It's probably something you were taught to see as valuable in childhood. It may be something you learned to value despite childhood. What we value can be chosen for us but can also be a choice we make after understanding more about ourselves.
What about life is worth it to you? Is love worth it? Would you separate out the different types of love like being loved versus being loving? If you haven't made a list of why life is worth living, today is a good day to start making that list. That list can become a life sustaining guide for the days when what you care about fails to make life easier.
A professor in one of my undergraduate psychology courses offered us a bit of wisdom in a short and simple phrase; You either ripe or you rot, there is no stasis. He wanted us to understand that there are two directions to travel, in his opinion, and there is no spot where we can stop working on living without starting to rot.
I have borrowed this phrase to support the idea that we are either working towards affirming that life is worth something or we are shifting away from letting it be worth anything. We won't notice the first subtle shift, in fact, we won't notice how quietly we amass worth-denying thoughts. I wish we could pinpoint when a lack of self-worth turns into the practice of denying the value of living.
I have heard the guess that we can think around 60,000 thoughts per day. We aren't born thinking about dying so it takes some coordination to turn those thoughts into actions and then lots of practice to turn those actions into habits which could add up to several millions of thoughts that aren't life-affirming and eventually familiar worth-denying patterns that one little life just can't matter.
Living takes work. We start just living by receiving. When we receive enough love and support, which most of us get, we then can give to ourselves and others. We can expand the experience of being valued and valuing others which is life-affirming. We can also receive messages that something about us is not worth keeping, not worth knowing, or not worth growing. If we internalize the message that there is something that makes us seem less than valuable to someone who we see as important, we can use that message against ourselves for years. Turning against ourselves is the worst betrayal and it doesn't have to happen.
Life-affirming thinking is about who you are, just the way you are, and that you being you matters.
Why should we start talking about making life wishes?
The idea for being overt and purposeful about this idea is because contemplating death is often silent, isolating, and disconcerting for the person who starts down that path. We talk about suicide prevention - so let's also look at what we can understand about what is life-affirming. The questions we have asked ourselves includes, "What if we can shift the discussion away from the edge, earlier?"
"Why stay alive? What good am I, really? What is the point of continuing this pain?" Notice these aren't questions...answers aren't expected. These are statements of someone trying to make up their mind, to be the judge and jury of a case they've brought against themselves. Unfortunately, only one side of the case is being heard and the trial is rigged.
With this awareness as a backdrop - the varied reasons to think about or respond to change - we can begin to discern how complex the forces are that cause anyone to turn away from a life wish and instead consider the opposite, a death wish. Though never expressed this way (no one walks into a conversation and says, "I now have a death wish,") there are real reasons and avenues people explore that change their view of their existence, causing them to begin to wonder about the value of maintaining it.
"...perhaps this dark night (of the soul) could be more accurately described as the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside." -David Whyte
The place of making a death wish is a lonely place. The place appears to have no doors out, no possibilities beyond the dark room the person is in - disconnected (even from choices still available). A person outside that darkened room is needed to reach in and reconnect - giving the darkness warmth, at first, and then a little light. Hopefully, the person lost in their unjust trial will not only see the light brought by a loved one but will shift back into creating their own again.
Questions to raise and pursue answers to:
1. What is the first step(s) a person takes away from life wishing?
2. How do I reverse course when I am moving away from life-affirming thinking?
3. What signs will make me aware that I am several steps away from my life wishing path?
4. Are small life wishes as powerful as bigger life wishes?
"After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, the changes of season - the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night." -Walt Whitman
1. Check out my article on the Death of the Death Wish at The Pitch KC online.
The article covers what makes us angry enough to hate our life and which moves we make that take us in the wrong direction. It is the apathy that sneaks up on us and ends up taking us hostage. We can make different moves to manage the challenges life brings us like hating our situation, hating ourselves, or not knowing how to make things better.
2. The following handout gives you a way to have a conversation with yourself or someone you care about.
3. The Heads Up Guys website is a great resource for men (but has info everyone can benefit from). This is an excerpt from one of their online self-help articles.
1. Remove Yourself from Danger or (if safe) stay where you are. -physically move away from the situation.
2. Slow Your Breathing. -breath in four counts, hold for four counts, breath our four counts. (our brains follow our breath - so consistent purposeful breathing can reduce anxiety.)
3. Re-Focus. -focus on relaxing your muscles. Relax your jaw, your eyes and eyebrows, drop your shoulders, and stretch your neck.
4. Reach Out. -if the first three techniques aren't working phone a friend or help line. (Hearing someone else's words can distract us from the voice in our own head that isn't saying the best stuff long enough for our brain to shift focus.)
5. Remind Yourself of Recovery. -remind yourself that recovery is possible. Many people have fought the fight with their own brain and recovered a healthier mentality. See a list of help lines at the bottom of this page.
4. The Hope Box idea as created for the Speaking of Suicide website can be a useful tool.
Items in a Hope Box may include:
- Letters or printed emails that mean a lot to you
- Photos of special times you have had – or of special times you hope to have, such as photos of a vacation spot or an activity you enjoy doing
- Photos of loved ones
- Inspirational quotes
- Bible verses, if you are religious
- Articles or columns that you find meaningful
- Jokes that make you laugh
- Anything else that reminds you of reasons to stay alive
The hope box is a technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy, as this article explains. The idea is to arm yourself to fight the tunnel vision and distorted thinking that can occur with suicidal thoughts – to give yourself reminders of hope even when when you feel none.
Suicide Prevention Resources are available here- https://afsp.org/suicide-prevention-resources
The Trevor Project National Survey Results 2020 are here- https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/
The Institute on Aging Friendship Line 1-800-971-0016