Living a life that really matters is one filled with meaning. It is a life that makes you feel fulfilled. Propels you to show up each day, even when obstacles stand in your way, and satisfies you with a sense of purpose.
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, defines a meaningful life as one that contains the feeling of belonging and serving something bigger than yourself. Equipped with purpose and a plan, people who live a life of meaning connect what they are doing with a knowingness that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. This pervades all aspects of their life such as career, parenting, romantic relationships, hobbies, social connections, and involvement with social causes.
Extending from your personal life to your professional life, meaning can be extracted from any experience. Like when an unwelcomed delay at the doctor’s office leads to a lovely connection with a more seasoned patient goer who offers tips on the best time to make an appointment. Or missing a deadline teaches you something you can tweak in your time management strategy. The possibilities for finding something positive can occur when you learn from every event or circumstance that you experience, knowing that something meaningful can be found in even the smallest things.
Mounting research in psychology suggests that people who believe their lives have meaning experience greater well-being. They are happier, more engaged at work, have higher life satisfaction, better immune system, are more adaptive at coping, and live longer.
You might find meaning in the thing that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. It could be how you find your motivation, or what attracts you to certain people and activities. All of this leads to the question of what a meaningful life is and how you can find more meaning in your life.
Not getting stuck in negativity
The path to meaning requires an openness to learning, trying new things, and getting curious. It also involves shelving judgments and knee jerk reactions. The key is expanding your perspective when things are seemingly unfair, just plain hard, don’t go your way, or don’t turn out the way you would have liked. It’s letting go of the resistance of accepting what is happening. It’s not getting stuck in the negative cycle of wanting things to be different from the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it.
Unpleasant experiences and situations are easy to find (just read the news or ruminate about all the small things that irritated you today). A life of meaning doesn’t focus on the negative events, including negative thoughts and emotions, and just staying stuck there. Sometimes situations and events are painful and miserable and there’s no need to deny that. However, it is essential to avoid rumination and inaction. If the painful event is small enough and inconsequential (say, spilling your coffee on the carpet), then there is no space for the negativity. You just attend to the clean up without judgment and the negativity is not allowed to stick around.
However, if the painful event is something undesirable that is really important to you, then you take action and be a force for good and make a change, big or small. On a global scale, this might be the life of an activist. Someone who sees something that is unfair and unjust and takes action to restore balance and fairness. For others, this could be harnessing the emotion of anger to speak up for herself in an unfair work dynamic.
Extracting the most meaning out of life is a holistic approach that encompasses tapping into all of who you are and harnessing the power of your strengths, values, and purpose.
UTILIZE YOUR STRENGTHS
We all have different strengths, and knowing your unique gifts, strengths, and talents will lead you on your path to a life of meaning. Not necessarily to change the world but to change YOUR world. Having an unshakeable belief that every experience is meaningful results in you spontaneously finding meaning through small things. Yes, there are still difficulties in life but it’s the recognition that you can ascend them and find the meaning. This is like the metaphor that even above the clouds the sun is still shining. When we look at all events, people, and circumstances this way then our life becomes open to infinite possibilities.
Becoming aware of your unique qualities and tendencies – your gifts – will elevate your well-being as you look at the world through a more optimistic lens. You will feel more authentic and engaged in the things that matter. Your confidence gets a boost because you are intentionally showing up with ease, applying the qualities you are naturally good at. A teacher will find meaning in sharing with others and providing their students with tools and knowledge they need. An artist may have a signature style and is tapped into the beauty of all things, and offers the full expression of themselves through art, song, dance, and design. While a data scientist loves getting lost in research and is willing to go into the details to put together pieces that tell a bigger story.
Honoring what it is you are naturally drawn to, what you are enlivened by, and how and who you like to spend your time with, will positively impact many areas of your life. In turn you will strengthen your relationships, reduce your stress, and help you accomplish meaningful goals.
TAKE ACTION FROM YOUR VALUES
Living a meaningful life is living consistent with your values. Values are fundamental beliefs and guiding principles that form the foundation on which you live and work. Clarifying your values allows them to guide your day-to-day decisions, so you can become more of who you are.
Brené Brown one said, “I haven’t done anything really meaningful in my life that’s been comfortable”. A meaningful life includes being courageous and vulnerable and stepping outside of your comfort zone and putting your values into action. Sometimes when we take action from our values, we are faced with circumstances that are uncomfortable. It could be because we are speaking up when something said in our presence is offensive because we value our voice to protect others and stand up to mistreatment and biases. It could be a decision not to engage in gossip or connect with others through negativity because we value integrity. Or it could be choosing a particular diet that reflects our value of compassion.
When you feel unsatisfied in certain areas of your life, it could indicate there is a disconnection with your values. Because without them, we feel directionless and life doesn’t have as much meaning. If connection is one of your core values, you can take time each day to make eye contact with someone, offer your presence to another person in conversation and spend time deeply listening to them. If you value joy, you can find ways each day to notice and savor the simple moments that arise organically in your day and make you feel content, peaceful, and happy. If adventure is a value, you might enjoy travel and trying new things.
If you are unsure of your core values, spend some time journaling about the things, people, and activities that you enjoy and would like to have more of in your life. This could include weekly lunch dates with a friend, intentionally spending time on a hobby every day, talking a walk in nature, reading, painting with water colors, playing piano… whatever sparks joy in your heart. Integrating your values allows you to support and honor your true self and what is meaningful to you at your core.
TAKE ACTION FROM YOUR PURPOSE
Living a meaningful life is living a life with purpose. Many of us wonder “what is my life’s purpose?” This first came up for me in my early 20’s, and I read a few self-development books to help point me in the right direction. The issue was that although I could eliminate the things I didn’t like, which is helpful, I wasn’t able to narrow in on the purpose of my life. That took me much longer.
Once I began meditating consistently and practicing the concept of thinking with my heart and considering questions like “how I could use my gifts and talents to be of service not only to others but to myself” did meaningful answers arise. What is connected to my purpose is what makes my heart sing and is what the world needs me to do. The same is true for you.
Your passion is a driving force in creating a meaningful life. It is what stokes your fire and allows you to find the pearl of wisdom, the jewel, the lesson in everything you experience. Howard Thurman, advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. What the world needs is people who have come alive.” Like your values, your purpose also honors your true self and what it is you are meant to do in this lifetime. When you’re in alignment with your purpose and embodying who you truly are, then you are living a meaningful life.
All together now
The qualities that support a meaningful life cannot be demanded or forced on you. They can only be cultivated when you have reached a point that your inner motivation and will is strong enough and you decide to put an end to feeling confused, directionless, unsatisfied, and fulfilled.
A meaningful life evolves from your strengths and gifts, your values, and your purpose. That magical formula that is you, ignites when you act from those deeply important areas of your being. This is your guide as you navigate a meaningful life. You bring these qualities into your relationships, your career, your lifestyle choices, how you spend your time, how you serve others, raise your children, and volunteer. It’s how you get out of bed in the morning and go to sleep at night. You embody what is meaningful to you and your actions reflect the most important things to you. This is how you create a more meaningful life.
Finding your meaning
You cannot have a meaningful life without a commitment to developing self-awareness. What is meaningful to you will never be found in a book or another person (just ask me!).
Self-awareness is a fundamental prerequisite to living a life of meaning. Once you know
your strengths, your values, and your purpose, you will have created the necessary foundation for your actions to reflect those. Then life unfolds with meaning and what comes next will be determined in large part by the choices you are making now.
“Your Well-being” coaching program
Discovering your magic formula is what I help my clients do in the clarity cornerstone of my signature coaching program called “Your Well-being”. I help you get clear on your purpose which includes your values, strengths, and your passions.
One of the exercises I do with my clients is to craft their personal life purpose statement. Together we co-create home practices that include specific actions they can take to honor what is meaningful in their lives as they move closer to their well-being goals. This also serves them when they are in a tough situation or aren’t clear what to do, so that they can draw on the embodiment of their purpose.
This gets them out of their head and into their heart. Embodying what’s meaningful in their life brings them closer to living the life they love… a life with meaning, purpose, and joy.
If living a more meaningful life is something you desire, I invite you to schedule a free “Activate Your Well-being” consult with me. We will hop on a call and chat about what this can look like for you. And you will walk away with some insights to activate your well-being and then take action steps to make it a reality.