Living a meaningful and purposeful life is something that many of us strive for. Many of us also know that meaning is something we intuitively seek out, but we don’t always know how to make it a part of our lives.
Living a meaningful life is about living with purpose, while living with purpose is about working towards a goal or value. While some goals are transitory, a truly meaningful goal will align with your values, beliefs and passions. We tend to experience more happy lives when we are purposefully working towards meaningful goals.
Living a meaningful life is something that many people think about, though most might not know how to do it.
While this can be a complicated topic, I have a lot to share through writing a book about it, so keep reading if you want to learn more.
Finding Meaning and Purpose
For all of us, meaning and purpose have their distinct meaning; while we might all agree that to do something meaningful means that it matters, we will likely disagree on what matters. This is because we all have our sense of right and wrong, or more precisely, we all have our own unique beliefs and values.
I’m not going to pretend that we don’t share many values; I don’t think there is much doubt about the importance of life, clean water, healthy food and a place to sleep.
But when it comes to the finer details, this is where we often encounter disagreement. For myself, I value truth above all else, but I’d suspect that my brother values fitting in and getting along as more critical.
This isn’t to say either of these opinions are wrong; instead, we all have different views about what matters. On top of this, we don’t have much choice about what matters to us. We can choose to follow one thing over another, but our instincts, which lead us there in the first place, don’t seem to be something we have much control over.
While a recent personality test revealed I was incredibly high on openness, that doesn’t mean I choose to be this way. Instead, it is just the way my genetics and upbringing have led me. But this isn’t true for only me; everyone, at least for the earlier parts of our lives, ends up being who they are without much say.
So when it comes to purpose, we need to keep these differences in mind; our purpose might not be the same as the people around us, so we shouldn’t let their opinions get in our way.
In a previous article, I talked about ikigai and how it is a framework or tool that can lead us to meaning and purpose in what we do.
However, it is unique to each of us; our interests, skills, and passions are ours and ours alone. But those inputs, along with what the world needs, leads to a meaningful ikigai. Put another way; we shouldn’t rely on what other people think or suggest for us. Instead, we should follow our purpose or passions because we alone know what is best for us.
Once we realize that finding meaning and purpose is up to us, we are freed of the typical influences that get in the way. For example, I’ve mentioned before that my dad told me to get into computer science at university, but I didn’t listen because I hadn’t found my way yet. Truth be told, if I had listened to him, I might have been making more money at this point, but I would have also lived a much less exciting life.
Part of what it takes to find purpose is a process of elimination enabled by exploration and discovery.
I’ve often talked about how we shouldn’t be afraid of failure because it prevents us from discovering what we are built for. While failure can hurt while it happens, it often provides us with an important lesson about what we should and should do going forward. If you succeed, keep at it, but if you fail, move on to something new.
Another thing to keep in mind is the risk of blaming other people for the way we feel. Put another way, we often look to the outside world for validation and permission, but only we know for sure what is suitable for us.
Therefore, we need to be willing to take personal responsibility for our choices because we have no power over our future without that.
A Purposeful Life
Oxford Dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” In this frame of thinking, a purpose is about intention or working towards a goal. And while we may achieve all sorts of goals throughout the day, most of them might not matter much if we haven’t given them any deliberation.
It doesn’t feel like it matters much to accomplish something if you hadn’t made it a priority beforehand.
Then, as we develop our plans or focus more on what we want, we can get a clear vision of our aims. Having a purpose gives us something to think about and take seriously; it also gives us something to work toward that is tangible.
I had a friend who was very concerned about the problematic source of chocolate, mainly concerning the people who take care of the cocoa plants. She had made a website, sold fair-trade chocolate, and organized a group at her university. And while most people might not have thought much about this issue, she did, and she found a lot of purpose in it.
We could argue about her effect, but what matters is that she saw it as a meaningful goal worth pursuing. We could also talk about the results; she informed people about a problem and helped them make slightly better choices, though the people benefiting likely had no idea what she was doing. However, in the end, what matters was that she was working toward a goal. On top of that, the goal was based on her values and was essential and worthwhile.
Purpose comes down to doing things for a reason, my friend saw that slaves still existed, and they were being forced to harvest chocolate.
For her, that was a severe injustice that went against her values and required action; she took action and tried to make a difference.
The point is that we need to strive to do things for solid reasons; it might be easy to convince yourself that doing something will make you rich, but that motivation will only work for so long. And while we need money to live and survive, for many of us, it isn’t the only thing that drives us; we often need something more.
A Meaningful Life
In a previous article, I talked about living a meaningful life, so we don’t need to cover all of that here. But the most critical points were purpose, which we already covered, significance, fulfilment and satisfaction. So while it might be challenging for our actions to have a significant impact, everything that we do matters and creates value somewhere.
But again, how significant something is often coming down to our understanding and expectations about it.
I would love for my writing to pay the bills, and maybe someday it will, but I must continue to write regardless. This is because, without writing, something feels like it is missing from my day; it isn’t about what it does for the world, rather the significance it has to me and my sense of purpose is what matters.
Fulfillment comes down to the same thing; how we value something or what it means to us is more of a choice or preference than something that comes from outside.
Spending time with my daughter, going for walks, and writing things, all these activities are essential to my day-to-day satisfaction and purpose in life.
Finally, satisfaction, once again, comes down to our feelings and what we get out of doing something.
We might not have total control over how we feel about the things we do and their effect on other people, but we might learn how to have more satisfaction in what we do.
A Meaningful and Purposeful Life
In many ways, a meaningful life depends on first living a purposeful life, and purpose in most senses comes down to us, our values and how we see the world. Then, we can look around and see problems that we think are worth solving and put our effort and energy into them. These efforts might not always pay off, but at least they come from us aiming at noble causes.
It is essential to look at your skills, what you are good at, and what value you can create for other people.
Once you have that sense, you can start looking for problems that need fixing, maybe your skills aren’t a perfect fit, but you can always work towards learning what will put you in a better position. While internet time often gets wasted, we have more opportunities than ever to learn whatever we want to know.
Once we find a match for our skills and what the world needs, it is crucial to plan.
For myself, I don’t exactly have a formal plan, but I do have a spreadsheet and a journal full of ideas that I work through as I get things done. So while technically, the destination is mostly in my head, the process is something I can check up on, and what I have to do exists as a checklist.
In other words, I have a goal or destination, I have a plan, I have a process, and I have a backlog of work that needs to be done. However, sticking to the program and getting work done gives me satisfaction, but at the same time, I am working towards a goal, which makes my activities purposeful.
For your situation, things might not be the same, but the general process will be. And while it is easy to say and think about doing all this stuff, it takes a shifted mindset to commit to it and get it done.
So while you might have a plan, you need to figure out how to convince yourself to stick with it.
Living a meaningful life comes down to working towards a purpose, so figure out your purpose by asking yourself, “what is my why?” and then stick to it. As long as you gain satisfaction, it is worthwhile, and sticking to it makes finishing possible.
If you are looking for more ways to live a meaningful life, check out my book, it is called How to be Amazing, and it covers 42 ways to live a more meaningful life. While this book might not give you all the answers, it will help you find meaning and value in what you are already doing and give you some guidance on what you can improve.