Contrary to what you may believe, you have almost total control over how meaningful or fulfilling your life is. Seriously. If you’ve never been able to grasp the concept that it’s not so much about your circumstances, but about how you react to those circumstances, we’ll help you out with figuring out how to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does It Mean to Live a Meaningful Life?
- 1. Reflect Often
- 2. Give Back
- 3. Practice Gratitude
- 4. Recognize Your Mortality
- 5. Choose Bravery
- 6. Be Authentic
- 7. Change Accordingly
Living a more meaningful and fulfilling life may seem difficult at first, especially if you’re going through a hardship. However, you can take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and before you know it, you’re in a much better place.
Below we provide seven tips for living a more meaningful life. Some of them may resonate with you, some of them may not. You may also be interested in these resources about life and death.
What Does It Mean to Live a Meaningful Life?
It doesn’t really matter how you came into this world or your ideas on how you got here. What matters is that you recognize that you’re here and you’re in this, with many others. Living a meaningful life, in your world, will likely look very different from that of your neighbor. And that’s how it should be.
There are a variety of ways to start living a more meaningful life if you’re feeling lost or directionless. Many of these ways start at the same root, however. It comes down to confronting yourself and your mortality.
Does it sound odd to think about life intertwining so much with death? It may make you uncomfortable, or emotional, sure. But the sooner you recognize the power you have over the moments you’re given, the more you’ll be able to make incredible things happen. And we’re not talking about overnight changes, either — so don’t stress.
In fact, creating meaning, finding joy, or celebrating the smallest moments is what has the biggest impact over time. And don’t just think you’ll be the only one who will notice if you subscribe to this belief — others will, too.
1. Reflect Often
Reflecting is perhaps one of the most essential parts of living a meaningful life. You should take adequate time each day, each month, each year — or however often — to recognize the things, places, people, lessons, and more that life is showing you. How are you reacting in these circumstances? What is it that you’d like to change? What do you hope never changes?
A good way to remain objective about any experience in your life is to write a letter to your future self. This way, you can best capture your emotions, as raw as they may be, and read them back later with perfect clarity.
You can experience firsthand whether or not you’ve upheld promises to yourself as well as witness how you’ve risen above certain obstacles.
2. Give Back
Though you have to have a good foundation yourself in order to help others, perhaps one of the best ways to start helping yourself is by helping others, first. If you’re unhappy or confused, aren’t sure what the “answers” are, or you don’t know how to ask for help — you’re pretty stuck then, aren’t you?
Putting your time and energy into something positive — rather than wasting it all on wallowing or overthinking — is a great way to get yourself out of any rut, either temporary or long-term.
To figure out how you can best help others, first consider your passions. Do you want to help people with disabilities? Animals? Children? The elderly? People who are food insecure? Or, do you simply want to start cleaning up a local beach or park? Forego your morning coffee and donate the savings to a charity?
The most noble causes don’t have to be official or showy. Doing things for others shouldn’t be about recognition, anyway. Helping the less fortunate gives us one of the most underrated gifts of all — perspective. And, of course, a different perspective often allows us to be grateful, as discussed below.
3. Practice Gratitude
You can’t really lead a meaningful life if you’re constantly hung up on what you don’t have. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work for things you want or set goals — however, it highlights the importance of gratitude. Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s simply about recognizing what you’re thankful for. And, if you’re able, try to be thankful for the bad stuff, too.
From the challenges, failures, disappointments, and heartbreaks you’ve experienced throughout your life, you probably learned a lot each time. If nothing else, you got through it, and that’s no small feat. There’s no guarantee that says you’ll survive everything.
If you’d like some more structure for how to practice gratitude or would like to think about it in a different way, consider creating a reverse bucket list. Here are some great books on gratitude to give you some further inspiration.
4. Recognize Your Mortality
Whether you’re religious or not, it’s simply a fact that life ends in death. Some lives are shorter, some are longer. But, equally so, any life can be well-lived, rich, and not marred by any regrets. Do you want yours to be like this? Start by confronting your mortality.
Though it’s unfortunate we can’t always control how long our lives are, we can control the quality of our lives. Accepting that death is inevitable and not being afraid of it is huge, and is a key facet of death positivity.
Once you become more comfortable recognizing that not every moment is guaranteed, you’ll be more likely to use each moment more fully and meaningfully. This may mean making changes in your personal or professional life, getting proactive with end-of-life planning, or, better yet, getting started on your ultimate bucket list.
5. Choose Bravery
Fear is unavoidable. And, at the same time, it’s crucial to making us better. Sounds funny, doesn’t it?
If you think of any great book or film, the main characters often have to overcome some seemingly insurmountable challenges. They may have been afraid all the while, but once they recognized and addressed their fear head-on — they typically conquer it. And, furthermore, any failure that may have come along the way seemed a lot easier to get over.
No matter what your fear is at this point in time — or even if you have many different fears — leading a meaningful life is about choosing bravery instead. You shouldn’t feel the need to discount your fears or ignore them, either. Instead, you should recognize your ability to overcome them and realize that “the worst possible outcome,” may not be so bad after all.
6. Be Authentic
How can you live a meaningful life if you don’t subscribe to the idea that everyone’s life has a different meaning? We’ll let you digest this. But, essentially, you shouldn’t waste time trying to be things that you’re not. Think about it. You may be trying to force a square peg into a circular hole in a variety of different aspects of your life.
And with this forcing, what are you left with? Well, in some, but not all cases, you may be living in the wrong place, working at the wrong job, or slumming it in the wrong relationship. And what then? You’re unhappy and less able to reach your potential.
On the other hand, being comfortable and proud of who you are doesn’t mean that you’re welcome to abandon the idea of growing and changing — on the contrary. You simply have to set and reach goals in a way that’s uniquely you.
7. Change Accordingly
Though much of this article is about recognizing where you are, what you have, and being present, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel inspired to change in some way. What do you hope to learn or do differently? What people do you need to spend more time with? Do you just need to spend more time with yourself?
The change you’re hoping to achieve may be small, large, or seemingly impossible. Whether this change is attainable for you or not, putting your best foot forward throughout the duration of your transformation is crucial. Continue to practice gratitude. Don’t lose faith over minor or major setbacks. Don’t let fear tell you you can’t do it, because you can.
You can have good days or bad days throughout this time, but it’s not so much whether they’re good or bad. What can you gain from them anyway? If, for example, you get a flat tire or tank a job interview, and that’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you that day, you still have the opportunity to live for the best possible thing that may be just around the corner.
You’re Living, After All
You’re alive and breathing and reading this. And, if you feel as though it’s hard to get through even the tiny stuff some days, that’s OK. You’re more than welcome to struggle. But instead, try recognizing the fact that you’ve been given the opportunity to struggle. And, furthermore, you’re more than capable of overcoming it, too.
After that, you can likely share your story with someone else who may need to hear it — further knocking off the tips on the above list for living a more meaningful and fulfilling life. For more advice on important conversations, such as how to talk to kids about death, check out the rest of Cake.