Making a Meaningful Life

I recently spoke at a dinner on the theme “Meeting Life’s Challenges” and I wanted to share a few of my thoughts. Seeking a meaningful life is the challenge each of us faces.

Figuring this out takes time, thought and reflection on what makes life meaningful…and yes, it will be different for each of us.

Gertrude Barber began the Barber Center with a desire to enable persons with disabilities to lead meaningful lives. As institutionalization was the outcome for most individuals with disabilities born prior to 1950, they had no opportunity to lead a meaningful life. But, she and a group of parents wanted so much more. Fast forward to today and 66 years later, we are serving 5,300 children and adults in Erie, Warren, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A meaningful life is what each of these individuals seek; so, how do we help them achieve that goal?

First, I recommend that we encourage both our children and our adults to begin their day by considering what they are grateful for. In doing so, they will start the day with a positive mindset which I believe is critical in our quest for a meaningful life.

Second, we should encourage them to focus on the present and not worry about the future or on the past. Then they will be able to enjoy and celebrate each day.

At the breakfast table each morning, Ryan and I discuss what he is grateful for. His comments often bring a smile to my face! Focusing on the present and not worrying about the past or the future has always been a challenge for him. Whenever he begins to digress and start worrying, I immediately prompt him by saying, “Today is a new day. Let’s not worry about the past, stay focused.” I may prompt him numerous times during the day, as he struggles with anxiety about so many issues. Life can be surprising, stressful, and unpredictable, but I truly do see the benefits of this practice in our daily lives.

Ryan and most children and adults with disabilities lead meaningful lives because of involvement and commitment of the community to our mission. The dream that Dr. Barber and the parents hoped for 66 years ago has come true.


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