A meaningful life is ultimately one you can look back on and feel fulfilled by. When life comes to a close, everyone wants to know that they spent the bulk of their time and energy on things that were worth it, and that they wasted as little of themselves as possible on things that don’t matter in the end.
This can often be easier said than done.
How do we know, before it’s too late, which things are going to end up mattering the most?
How can we make sure we’re focusing on the things that will bring fulfillment, and not wasting time on things that will leave us with regrets?
What Does it Mean to Live a Meaningful Life?
The definition of a meaningful life can change depending on the person. In fact, there are probably as many definitions and translations of a meaningful life as there are human beings.
That’s because each of us has a different hierarchy of values and priorities, and different ideas about what is most important.
While many of us may agree that certain things are more important than other things, at the end of the day, what looks like a meaningful life to one person may sound awful to someone else.
Living a meaningful life ultimately means discerning what is important to you and being true to yourself in the choices you make along the journey.
If you decide that your highest value is family, meaningful life for you will be one in which family is prioritized above other things in all, or at least most, of the choices you make as you go through the years.
This example can apply no matter what your highest value is, just replace “family” with the thing you value most, and you’re one big step closer to figuring out what a meaningful life looks like for you.
In the end, it’s about getting clear on your goals and values, and then not letting other distractions get in the way.
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How to Make Your Life More Meaningful
To make your life more meaningful, consider areas of your life that already feel fulfilling; that make you feel charged up and happy. Then, think of the things that drain your energy and those that don’t add value to your life.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news; if your goal is to live a meaningful life, you need to be willing to part ways with the people and activities you engage in that don’t make you feel good.
Settling for feeling comfortable with where you are right now isn’t going to make your life feel meaningful.
Bring intentional decision-making to every aspect of your life, and you’ll be able to filter out the noise from what really matters the most. If that one friend that constantly complains is bringing you down, stop spending time with them. If painting lights your fire, spend more time doing that!
A life of meaning is a life lived with intention. While it’s easy to fall into the habit of living life at max speed, meaning is found when we can stop and reflect on the very things that make our lives feel fulfilling.
It can be something small like taking care of your houseplants or something bigger like running your own business. Don’t allow life to drag you along for the ride, take charge by directing your life onto a path that aligns with you.
Reflect on what your values are and identify what is most important to you. Then, pour your time and energy into activities and people that help bring out your best qualities and help you grow into a person you can be proud of.
Fill your life with people who support you and give you a sense of belonging, chase after your dreams, be present in all that you do and find joy in the little things. These are just a few of the ways that you can add meaning to your life.
What Does Living a Meaningful Life Mean to You?
Figuring out what living a meaningful life means to you can be a lifelong process and, even if you have figured out what makes life meaningful, this may change as you grow and get older.
Some may believe that their entire life’s purpose revolves around finding the meaning of life, while others might approach it as something fluid that constantly changes over time.
What makes life feel meaningful for each of us can vary significantly from person to person.
But, essentially, what feels meaningful to you will be tied to your values and what makes you feel fulfilled.
Figuring out what gives your life meaning, means self-reflecting on the different aspects of your life and how they come together to make your life meaningful.
Meaning can be found in your relationships with loved ones, in your career, your hobbies, within your community, and within yourself.
It’s a matter of finding people and activities that align with your beliefs, your personality, and who you are as a person. Feeling like you belong or being a part of something bigger than yourself can make life feel more meaningful and profound.
Learning what living a meaningful life means to you is just as important as understanding why you should want to live a meaningful life.
Many suffer from anxiety because they are stuck in a cycle of living in a way that doesn’t align with their needs and who they are as a person. And that’s not their fault at all!
Sometimes our needs change, and we must take time to realign our lifestyles to those needs. When you feel like you are living a meaningful life, you feel the opposite of anxious. You’re at peace and completely content with where you are at that moment in time.
15 Ways to Live a Meaningful Life
1. Live in the Present Moment
So many people look back on their lives and regret how much time they spent dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
When in pursuit of a meaningful life, the only moment you have is the one right in front of you.
You cannot change what happened in the past, no matter how much you might want to. And you cannot control the future no matter how much time you spend planning it all out.
All you have is right now, the present moment. Live in it, and use it as well as you possibly can.
2. Focus on the Important Things
What is important to you? Is it your partner? Your children? Or perhaps your career? A cause you have devoted your life to serving? What are your most deeply held values?
If you can answer these questions, you can pinpoint what is important to you. These are the things you want to focus on as you strive for a meaningful life.
3. Search for Your Purpose
Your purpose in life probably has a lot to do with what you decided is most important to you (if it doesn’t, there may be some more soul searching in store!)
Your purpose is the reason you were put on this earth, the thing you were meant to do with your life. Maybe you have no idea what this is yet. Maybe you’ve known since you were five years old.
Either way, you’re doing fine.
Most of us will not know our purpose at the beginning of our lives, and we will need to search for it, often through lots of trial and error.
Start trying things you feel interested in and pay attention to how each of these new outlets makes you feel.
Your purpose will most likely be the thing you keep coming back to, so you may need to try lots of different things before it becomes clear. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will see progress.
4. Be Generous to Others
None of us is an island – we are surrounded by other people who are each at a different stage of their journey.
Think back to the times in your life when you needed help getting from Point A to Point B, and the generosity of one person made all the difference in helping you get to where you needed to be.
Generosity doesn’t always mean money, either.
You can be generous with your money, but you can also be generous with your time, with words of encouragement, with your resources, and with many other things you may not even realize you have.
If someone comes to you and you see a way to help them, don’t deny them the help they need. Be generous with others the way others have been generous with you.
5. Be Mindful of Your Actions
Part of living a meaningful life is being self-aware, and paying attention to your actions and the way they are received by others.
Every single one of us has flaws, and we all need to work toward improving ourselves to become better human beings.
Don’t be afraid of your shortcomings.
Instead, meet them head-on and work toward improving them. This takes courage and strength, and it goes a long way.
6. Don’t Hold Grudges
When you hold a grudge against someone, believe it or not, you are hurting yourself more than you will ever hurt them.
You are the one who is burdened by the weight you insist on carrying. You are the one filling yourself with anger and hatred, refusing to let go.
At the end of your life, you will never look back and think about how glad you are that you never forgave so-and-so for that thing that happened fifty years ago.
Forgive. Let go.
It will make you lighter and happier, and it will free you up to live life more meaningfully.
7. Take the Risk
You are much more likely to regret something you didn’t do, than something you did do. When you take a risk, the worst thing you can end up with is a life experience and a story to tell, but chances are you’ll end up with something even better than that.
When you choose the safe route over the thing you really want, there’s a strong chance you’re going to be haunted by the dreaded “What if?”, and there’s no telling how long those questions might last.
You don’t want to reach the end of your life and wonder “What if” you had followed your true passion, “What if” you had taken that job you wanted, “What if” you had moved to the place you always wanted to live? Take those risks when you have the chance. Odds are, you’ll regret it much more if you don’t.
8. Live Simply
We have a bad habit of crowding and cluttering our lives with lots of things we don’t need, and we end up getting distracted from what we really want.
When we feel pressured to buy every new smartphone that comes out and every new outfit we see at the mall, we can forget that what we really want is to spend two weeks in Italy, and we should have saved up to take the trip instead of spending all that money on new phones and new clothes.
Get rid of belongings you don’t need.
Make yourself portable. Clean and organize your living space, and turn it into a place where you can relax, rather than a space that triggers anxiety.
9. Follow Your Passion
How many of us go for the better paying job instead of the one we actually enjoy? While money is necessary to live, it’s not what life is all about, and you can’t take it with you in the end.
Loving your work goes a long way in life – just ask anyone who hates their job. Take the time to figure out what your passion is, and then chase it. It’s not too late.
10. Love People and Use Things
So often, we do the opposite. We love things, and we use people. The people in our lives are so important, whether it’s our family, our friends, our partner, or our children.
Love the people in your life, and that love will not go unreciprocated.
Be there for your loved ones, even when it involves sacrifice.
Don’t place things above people, and don’t think of people as things to be used.
11. Foster Compassion
Compassion and empathy are the emotions that bond people together.
These are the emotions that allow us to relate to one another, and to meet others where they are even if we have never experienced what they are going through.
Compassion and empathy are the great connectors, so make sure they have a role in your life.
12. Set Goals
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You need to sit down with yourself and get clear on what you want out of life, and then create a plan for how to get there.
Set goals to serve as mile markers along the way.
Your goals should be concrete and measurable so that you will know when you have achieved them. This is not about living in the future, this is about making sure you know where you’re going.
The life you want is not going to happen by accident without your active participation, and more than likely, some of the dreams you have will benefit from advance planning. It’s never too early – or too late – to get started on setting some goals.
13. Choose Your Friends Wisely
The people you surround yourself with play a huge role in the direction you will take in life. Do your current friends encourage you or tear you down?
Do they support you, or do they make you feel like you’re never good enough?
Are they good, virtuous people living lives that inspire you, or are they just the people who keep showing up on Friday night and you’re too nice to tell them you actually have nothing in common?
Most meaningful lives are not lived in a bubble. If the friends in your life are not making you better, then they are making you worse.
14. Don’t Work Too Hard
It’s a little scary how many people end up saying on their deathbed that they wish they would have spent less time at work.
This doesn’t mean careers are meaningless, and it doesn’t mean you can never work overtime. It simply means to make sure your life is balanced. More than likely, your boss is not going to be the one holding your hand in your final moments.
That role will probably belong to someone in your family – perhaps a spouse, maybe a child, or maybe in some cases a close, lifelong friend.
Don’t compromise your relationships with your family and friends just so you can brag about clocking 60 hours a week and being busier than everyone you know. It probably won’t be worth it in the end.
15. Be Yourself
Ultimately, the biggest regret of most people is every moment they spent trying to be someone other than who they truly were.
Whether you feel pressured to fit into a mold that doesn’t feel like you, or whether you’re afraid or ashamed of certain parts of your personality, you need to embark on the journey of loving and embracing your true self and allowing yourself to live accordingly.
There is no one else out there exactly like you, and when you hide your true personality, you deprive the world of a unique, unrepeatable individual.
One of the most important ways to live a meaningful life is to make sure you are being true to who you are at all times.
Meaningful Life Examples
1. Choosing to be a parent. Many parents feel that having children and their own families to take care of has made their lives more meaningful. People can also find meaning by being childfree and exploring different avenues.
2. Living a life of service to others. This could be someone who, in some way, has made it their life’s mission to help communities grow and sustain themselves. It could include volunteer work, missionary work, or being the leader of a spiritual establishment.
3. Pursue your dreams by cultivating and pursuing your passions and choosing a career that excites you and aligns with who you are.
4. Being part of a social group or community of like-minded members helps you feel a sense of connection, which is vital for leading a meaningful life.
5. Having a positive mindset allows you to constantly see the good happening to you and all around you. By focusing on the positives, you’re promoting feelings of well-being within yourself.
CREATING A MEANINGFUL LIFE
Creating a meaningful life may not be easy, but it is simple. It is about discerning what is most important to you, understanding your values, and being true to who you are.
Hopefully, these 15 steps have helped you to reflect on what a meaningful life looks like to you, but you can’t stop there! Now it’s time to get out and create it.