Life is a complicated, busy, multifaceted ride that can pass by pretty quickly if we’re not smelling the roses. But trying to figure out what makes a meaningful life doesn’t have to be the same way-as long as you take the time and make an effort.
A meaningful life is made from discovering what matters to us as individuals. It evolves over time as we grow and develop, and included the relationships we have, activities we’re a part of, beliefs we hold, and our outlets for self-expression.
A meaningful life is different for everyone, but do you know what adds value and meaning to your life? Do you know what the things are that give you purpose and make you feel like you belong?
What is a Meaningful Life?
People have been trying to figure this out for as long as we’ve had rational thought-that’s a long time! A meaningful life is determined by what you value the most. It’s living a life with purpose, helping others, and enjoying what you do. Different people have varying ideals, values, virtues and morals-therefore a meaningful life for one could be very different from another.
But your life doesn’t have to be different or even unique to be meaningful – we experience changes all of the time that can alter our perceptions of what is meaningful in life.
These changes include aging, work/career, location (where we work and live), relationships, having children, and losing loved ones. All of these things change our lives, change our perspectives, and can alter what defines a meaningful life for us.
How Do You Live a Meaningful Life?
Living a meaningful life is a personal journey, and the reasons for doing so can be very different from person to person. It’s about exploring and understanding what matters to you, what makes you happy and feel good, and placing your actions and choices parallel to your values and purpose.
We all have different values, desires, needs, wants, and interests. This means we each define our own meaningful life in a unique way. How do we define it? First, ask yourself a few questions:
- What do you value most in life?
- What is your purpose in life?
- What do you enjoy most?
- What are your goals?
Once you answer these questions, you should be able to identify what is most meaningful to you and what adds value to your life. Everyone will have different answers, which is what makes each of us so unique and our lives so different from each other. Plus as we age, our values and purpose may change. Therefore, the way we each live our own meaningful lives will change as well!
Take these things into consideration as your life changes:
- Always make time for others. A feeling of belonging is important to most people, so spending time with others is more important than finishing that report for work. So go to that birthday party, join that family dinner, and take your loved one out to dinner.
- Be open to learning new things. Whether it’s going out in nature and learning plant names or developing your skills as an archer, try new things. Your interests will change and your ability to do certain things will as well, so be open to new experiences!
- Teach others. Once you’ve committed to learning something new, share your experiences with others. Express how this new hobby makes you feel and have others learn with you. Teach them what you’ve learned and remember how that makes you feel. Then you’re sharing skills, joy, and knowledge with others and building relationships.
- Share your story. Tell others about your experiences, your likes and dislikes, and how things made you feel. Your narrative can have a big impact on others and even inspire them to do the same or even more. And that’s an awesome feeling.
Here is an insightful video from Michael Steger about elements to making a meaningful life:
What Things Make Human Life Meaningful?
There are many, many things that contribute to a meaningful life for us humans. Let’s explore some of the most common themes:
|Theme||What Makes It Meaningful|
|Marriage and family||For some it’s raising a family and carrying on the family name. Having children, teaching them right and wrong and how to be nice people are part of a meaningful life for family-oriented people.|
|Career goals||Others pursue career advancements and climbing the ladder of success. Advanced degrees, management and leadership positions, even starting a business have the potential to make a meaningful life.|
|Travel||It might be a life of travelling the world, seeing the wonders of the globe, and learning about other cultures.|
|Serving others||Helping others through illness or difficult times, or a life of quiet servitude or educating others can be ideal to many. Teaching, firefighting, nursing, volunteering, and these are just a few options for service to others.|
You may even pursue all of the above to create your meaningful life. We all enjoy different things, value things differently, and have different goals in life. What are your goals-and what means the most to you?
What is the Key to a Meaningful Life?
There’s not just one key to a meaningful life, there’s multiple. Philosophers have been researching this since the dawn of time and have narrowed it down a bit, but because we change-so do the answers. Humans are all different and have varied thoughts on what adds value to their lives, what keeps them going, and what makes a meaningful life. Here are some of what has been found to bring meaning to peoples’ lives:
- Happiness – Activities, hobbies, travel, and laughter make people happy as well as bring meaning to life. Figure out what (or who) makes you happy and pursue that.
- Belonging and relationships – Being with others, feeling like you belong somewhere, and sharing feelings and commitments to others adds meaning to peoples’ lives. We do value some alone time in life, but there’s nothing like feeling like someone needs you with them.
- Purpose – Having things to do, others to serve, and routines can bring meaning to life. Sometimes it’s your work, or your hobby, or something that keeps you active and helps others.
- Hard work – Growing one’s career, perfecting skills, and seeing the outcome of hard work contribute to a meaningful life for many. This can also pertain to work, hobbies, or even volunteering for service.
- Lifelong learning – Learning new things and continuing to feed the brain is a big motivating factor for many. Work skills, continuing education, advanced degrees, even learning new hobbies contribute to a meaningful life.
Did you notice anything there about collecting stuff? No? That’s probably because stuff doesn’t contribute to a meaningful life! When you look back on your life, you won’t be cataloging your belongings-trust me!
Different people have varying ideals, values, virtues and morals-therefore a meaningful life for one could be very different from another.
Minimalism and Living a Meaningful Life
Minimalism is the practice of living life more intentionally, focusing more on quality than quantity. A meaningful life is not characterized by a great deal of stuff, but on experiences and feelings and sharing time with loved ones. Living with purpose and sharing experiences with others can be much more fulfilling and meaningful than collecting stuff. So how do we incorporate minimalism into our lives?
- Declutter and reorganize your home-Decreasing the stuff will help to lower your stress level, give you more time, and help you figure out what you really value. Minimalists know that more stuff does not mean more value or happiness.
- Declutter your life-Clear out your schedule of the things you don’t really need to do, get rid of toxic people, simplify your technology to find true happiness. There are plenty of ways to enjoy life without life clutter and people who don’t value your friendship.
- Focus on experiences rather than belongings-Don’t buy the latest fashions, the newest smartphone, or more toys for the kids. Take your family on that beach vacation, spend an evening outside with your partner or spouse, and watch the sunset instead of “reality tv”. Conversation is much more valuable than cash.
Taking these steps toward minimalism can help you decrease stress as well as find more meaning in your life.
Insightful Books on Living a Meaningful Life
Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankl) (2006)
Frankl was a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. These experiences are detailed in this book with how he learned to cope with pain and suffering, figure out what that suffering meant to him, and how his purpose was renewed as he moved forward with life. This posthumous publication can help the reader learn to deal with their own pain and persevere by putting things into perspective. Available in paperback and audiobook.
The Art of Happiness (Dalai Lama) ) (1998)
When read with an open mind, this book can help the reader make changes to their attitude, perspective, and life to truly find happiness. The Dalai Lama guides on battling depression, jealousy, anxiety, as well as navigating relationships, work, and the obstacles in life to find inner peace. Available in paperback and audiobook.
The Book of Joy – Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu) (2016)
These Nobel Prize winners are known for being spiritual masters, moral leaders, and infectiously happy. This book contains stories of their daily practices, adversities and struggles, and bringing joy to others in order to experience personal joy. Available in paperback and audiobook.
- Minimalism – The Benefits and Joys of Minimalist Living
- Self-Actualization – Feeling and Realizing Your Full Potential
- Journaling Benefits – Guide to Connecting with Yourself
- Benefits Of Gratitude – Fewer Things and More Fulfillment
- Letting Go – How to Have More by Carrying Less
- What Really Matters – How Doing Less Makes it All Better
There’s no one way to define a meaningful life for all people. Everyone (including you!) has a different mindset regarding what means the most, what is most enjoyable, and what has the most value. You create your meaningful life and what anyone else thinks really does not matter.
We are usually at our happiest when we stop comparing ourselves to others, set out to pursue our own dreams, and live our own lives the way that is most meaningful to us. I encourage you to start today and figure out what makes your life meaningful to you!