Okay, most of us don’t lie awake at night wondering whether our life has meaning and purpose. We’re too occupied with paying the rent, delivering tomorrow’s presentation, wondering if that new woman at work is available, remembering the errands we have to run in the morning.
We tend to put off the Big Questions until they’re staring us in the face, usually in less than pleasant circumstances: We find out we have a life-threatening disease. A relationship ends. Our work becomes unbearable. Someone we love dies.
But if you want to live a life full of zest and joy and satisfaction, knowing what really matters to you is crucial.
What is a Meaningful Life?
Some say life’s an amusement park. Some say it’s a school. For some its purpose is to find enlightenment or the will of God. For some, life has no meaning at all.
But what I’m talking about here isn’t some abstract, philosophical truth. I’m talking about the kind of meaning that counts when the rubber meets the road—the kind that powers your real, everyday life.
Maybe there isn’t any other kind of meaning. Maybe Anais Nin nailed it when she said,
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like a novel, a book for each person.”
She gives us the key when she says meaning is something we give to our lives. It’s not something “out there” that we find; it’s something we project into the world through the choices we make in our lives about the values we will live by, through our dedication to the causes and people who matter to us.
Why Meaning Matters
In his article “Find Meaning,” motivational writer Chuck Gallozzi said, “the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.”
Man, apart from all other creatures, is a seeker of meaning. Without it, life feels empty and provides no genuine satisfaction. Power, wealth, or pleasure are hollow in and of themselves, leading to nothing but a craving for more. It’s only when they come as natural byproducts of our will and passion to create, to give, and to serve that they truly enrich us.
When you know how you want to be in the world and what matters to you, when you have a sense of purpose for your life, you feel enriched and eager for each day.
Purposeful living gives us a sense of direction. It lets us spot opportunities to express ourselves in ways that give us feelings of satisfaction and self-worth. When we know what is meaningful to us, we greet our days with courage and see them as offering us yet another chance to experience life’s challenges with strength and a determination to be the best we can be.
How to Discover Meaning in Your Life
Viktor Frankl, whose book Man’s Search for Meaning – considered by the Library of Congress to be one of “the ten most influential books in America” – , says meaning comes to us when we accept full responsibility for how we will respond to life and how we will give ourselves to the world.
It’s a matter of the attitude you determine to take toward life and of what you choose to give of yourself.
Know Your Values
One way to drill down to the attitudes and values that mean the most to you is to assess your personal strengths. Is it important to you to be courageous? Creative? Kind? Authentic? A strong leader? Knowing your top strengths gives you guidelines to follow when you’re faced with a choice about how you want to respond to the world. It allows you to choose in a way that’s meaningful for you.
Decide What’s Important
Another way is to think about the different life arenas—relationships, family ,health, career, recreation, spirituality—and pick out which one or two mean the most to your right now. They may change in their level of importance as you go through your life, but pick the one or two that take top place for you right now.
Next, ask yourself how you want to act in this life arena. How would your Ideal Self behave?
Think about it when you’re on your commute or waiting in a line somewhere. What you focus on expands in your experience, so take the time to consider what kind of actions you want to see yourself doing.
Spend time imagining how you could put these kinds of actions into play in a challenging situation.
Begin practicing your ideal behaviors right away, a baby step at a time, until they become second nature. Because these are actions you have identified as meaningful, you will feel wonderfully enriched and satisfied when you do them. And opportunities to put them into practice will become enticingly attractive to you.
Find Opportunities to Give of Yourself
To know that we’re making the world a better place is a powerful source of meaning. Whether it’s making a decision to follow your big dream to join a service or volunteer organization, making regular donations to a cause, or simply smiling at the clerk at the grocery store, all of us have ways to contribute to the world’s well-being, to serve our fellow beings.
Focusing on what you can do for others lets you transcend yourself. Serving others, in whatever way is compatible with your personality, talents and skills, benefits you as much as those you’re serving.
Service breeds positivity and is one hallmark of positive living. As positivity expert Dr. Barbara Fredrickson observed, positive people not only feel good, they do good. And they do it because it gives their live meaning.
Take the time to identify what’s most meaningful in your life, then commit yourself to it with all your heart. Not only will you feel a heightened sense of self-worth, purpose and direction, but you will touch the lives of others in meaningful ways, too. That’s just the way it works. Isn’t that beautiful?
If this article was meaningful to you, please “Like” it, below. And feel free to share what gives your own life meaning.Photos courtesy of stock.xchng