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Meaningful v. Meaningless Activity

We often talk of “meaningful” engagement or “meaningful” activity as if there is just one type of meaning. The truth is that what is meaningful to one person may not be so to another when they need assistance with their daily activities.

Let’s take a look at the difference between meaningful and it’s opposite, meaningless.

When something is meaningless, it lacks purpose, value or significance. Certainly no one is striving to spend their time in a meaningless way and yet maintaining boring routines can feel futile to people. There can be a lack of joy or inspiration when people are stuck in meaningless activity. Here are some examples of meaningless activities:

  1. Checking email just because
  2. Scrolling through social media feeds
  3. Viewing TV alone or watching the same programs repeatedly

Conversely, when something is meaningful it is “full of significance” and has purpose. When caring for someone who might need elder care due to age or chronic conditions that have altered their physical abilities, it’s important to find ways to spend time together that is worthwhile to them. Here are some examples of meaningful activities:

  1. Gardening can be meaningful if it brings someone the joy of growing their own food or waiting for the flowers to bloom. This also can engage all of one’s sense, which tends to increase the meaning of an activity.
  2. Making a photo album to give as a gift or have as a keepsake for sharing memories with someone new in your life.
  3. Listening to music because it can evoke memories to be shared or be part of creating new ones if you can see live music together.

In order to find out what is meaningful to another person who needs your help, you might ask what they love to do or what they are good at (even if this is something they physically cannot do alone, maybe you can assist so they still have the feeling of engaging in this activity). Remember that one person may find coloring in pictures to be relaxing and rewarding while someone else might feel it is mind-numbing and pointless, for example.

Creating a shared activity in which people need to talk or rely on one another to complete a larger task can be meaningful, so it is not just about one or two people. Think of a letter-writing campaign or making a meal together for group activities.

Read more about what’s behind creating meaning in this ChangingAging blog.

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