This article was co-authored by Ira Israel. Ira Israel is a Licensed Counselor and Psychotherapist who has been in private practice for over 14 years. He specializes in teaching others about happiness and authenticity. Ira teaches sold-out Happiness and Authenticity workshops at Esalen Institute and Kripalu Center and has written over 400 articles on psychology, philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, film, art, music & literature for The Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Mind Body Green, Thrive Global, and Medium. Ira is also the author of How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening. He attended The University of Pennsylvania and has graduate degrees in Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.
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When something has meaning, it has a purpose; it is significant. Likewise, a life that has meaning feels purposeful and significant. Feeling as though your life is meaningless can lead to depression and hopelessness.XResearch source Adding meaning to life is not an exact science, but it is possible to develop a meaningful life for yourself if you are willing to put some time and consideration into the process.
Method 1Method 1 of 2:Changing Your Perspective on Life
- 1Discover your purpose. Feeling as though your life has a purpose, that you have an impact and you are making the most of your abilities and your time, can infuse your life with meaning. This may require you to try your hand at many different things. If photography appeals to you, borrow a camera or take a class and see how you feel. Or maybe you are interested in helping others and are good at communicating — try tutoring to see if teaching helps you feel fulfilled.XResearch source Other exercises that can help you find your purpose: XResearch source
- Picture yourself in old age, reflecting on your life. What sort of life would you have liked to live? Would you feel satisfied with a life spent traveling all over the world, but not necessarily raising a family? Or would you feel proud and content if you had a big, healthy family?
- Write down your strengths and talents. In what ways could you put these to use? In your job? As a volunteer or a friend?
- Each night for a week, take a moment to write down events and activities that gave you energy, pleasure, and a sense of purpose, and which events and activities did not. Go over the list at the end of the week and try to think of ways to maximize the enjoyable, energizing things in your life.
- 2Figure out what is important to you. Everyone has different priorities; figuring out what is important to you is essential to living a life that is meaningful. Make a list of five things that are important to you, then consider whether the way you are currently living your life aligns with these things. If not, how could you change it to better incorporate the things that are important to you?XResearch source
- You may want to list things like family or health. Or you may list things like creativity, growth, helping others, freedom, curiosity.
- If "creativity" is at the top of your list, but you work as an accountant, you may want to think about a job change, or find ways to incorporate creativity into your life (like taking a painting class, writing in your free time, acting in a community play, etc.).
- 3Write down the reasons why you feel you need to add more meaning to your life. Why do you feel you need to do this? Have you experienced a big life event? Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a rut. Whatever the reason, write down your reasons for wanting to add meaning to your life. You can write them on paper or type them on your computer. This will help you understand why it is important for you, and also help you organize your thoughts.
- Understand the importance of purposeful living. Having a sense of purpose increases quality of life, and may even help you live longer.XResearch source
- Be aware that meaning is not the same as happiness. You may be happy, but not be living a meaningful life. On the other hand, living a meaningful life does not necessarily mean you will be happy.XResearch source That’s not to say that being happy is not important, but instead, that you should not expect finding meaning to mean finding happiness.
- 4Set a goal for yourself. Think about something you have always wanted to do. Maybe you want to get into the habit of jogging, or maybe you want to write a novel. Regardless of what it is, setting a goal to complete this dream will help you feel purposeful.XResearch source
- If your goal is to run a marathon, then you can set that as your ultimate goal. However, it is important to break that goal down into more specific, manageable goals. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that breaking a big goal down into smaller, actionable steps makes you more likely to achieve that goal.XResearch source
- Keep a journal of your progress. This will help you when you are feeling less motivated because it gives you an opportunity to re-motivate yourself, and to see how far you’ve already come. Even when things don't go as planned, there's something to learn or to grow.
- 5Change the way you think about your career. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "whatever your life’s work, do it well."XResearch source If you have a job that you don’t find meaningful, then focus on being the best at your job. This, in and of itself, can add meaning because it requires you to go to work each day with a goal in mind.
- You can also try to look for small ways that your jobs allow you to help others or even just yourself. For example, if you work at a daycare, you are helping not only the children you care for, but also the families of the children by allowing them time to go to work or take care of personal things. If you’re a teacher, not only do you help other people learn, but you also learn many things about many topics too.
- 6Become aware of the things for which you are grateful. It may sound silly, but taking the time to write down or at least notice things you are grateful for can help you feel like your life is more meaningful.XResearch source Expressing gratitude for you have, instead of worrying about what you do not have, can help you refocus and connect with the world around you.XTrustworthy SourceHarvard Medical SchoolHarvard Medical School's Educational Site for the PublicGo to source Connecting with nature, other people, or a higher power can help bring meaning to your life.
- For example, maybe you are grateful for you comfortable bed, maybe you are grateful that you don’t have to get up early in the morning, or that you have a friend you can call at any time of the day or night.
- Try to practice becoming mindful of the great things you have on a regular basis and being aware of your feelings. Even if it is just noticing something that makes you feel grateful for a few extra seconds each day.
- Cultivating gratitude reminds us that, even when bad things happen or don't go the way we planned, there are still good things in our lives.XTrustworthy SourceHarvard Medical SchoolHarvard Medical School's Educational Site for the PublicGo to source Eliminating that feeling that you should always have more can help you see what is truly meaningful in your life.
- 7Seek help. Sometimes, we may get very caught up in our own thoughts, which can make it difficult to find solutions. If you are having a difficult time, you can talk with a mental health professional who can give you an unbiased perspective. You can also talk with a trusted friend or family member, they may have had similar experiences or just suggestions about things you can try.
Method 2Method 2 of 2:Making Life Changes
- 1Build close relationships. This can be with family or friends you already have, but it can also be with new people. Either way, take the time to build close relationships with others. This is one great way to add meaning to your life because these relationships are deep, and provide benefit to you as well in the form of love and support.XResearch source Some ways to strengthen your relationships include:
- Become a great listener. Instead of waiting for your turn to talk, or checking your phone while someone is speaking, turn your focus onto that person and what he is saying. Show you are listening by nodding, asking follow-up questions, and repeating things back to them (like "So, what you're saying is...").
- Learn healthy ways to express your emotions. Knowing how to manage your anger can help prevent you from yelling, snapping, or engaging in abusive behavior with others.
- Show that you are trustworthy. When you say you are going to do something, follow through and do it. Tell the truth, be consistent, and if you're wrong, own up to it.XResearch source
- 2Work through problems in your current relationships. Sometimes having close relationships with people can be very challenging. There can be many reasons why they are difficult, but one reason is that people who are close to you often challenge you to open up, or to reflect on your beliefs.XResearch source
- Despite the stress that these relationships might bring from time to time, research has shown that, unless they are physically or emotionally abusive, they are important for developing a sense of meaning.XResearch source
- Consider family or couples therapy to help you work through problems with family or significant others. A therapist can act as a mediator and help you communicate in healthy, productive ways.
- Learn to set boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries is a way to protect yourself and improve your sense of self.
- Communicate assertively. Being assertive doesn't mean aggressive — it means you are stating your needs while still respecting the needs of others.
- 3Be compassionate. The Dalai Lama said: "Compassion is what makes our lives meaningful."XResearch sourceSometimes this is easy, but many times it is a challenge. When you see someone suffering or doing something that annoys you, try to put yourself in his shoes. Think about how you would feel or behave if you were facing the same situation. Hopefully by doing this, you will be encouraged to act, either by trying to help the suffering person or showing understanding.
- This also applies to your attitude about yourself. Sometimes, you will make mistakes, and that is OK. Try to be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be to someone you really care about.
- Compassionate actions activate the pleasure center of your brain, so you feel great whenever you help someone else.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good MagazineJournal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier livingGo to source Compassionate people also make better friends, parents, and spouses, so showing compassion can help improve your relationships.
- 4Make donations. Although this may not at first seem like a way to be grateful, donating time, money to help support an organization, or donating goods (like giving canned foods to a soup kitchen) is a way of demonstrating that you appreciate what you have. You can be charitable in many ways. You can donate your time, your money, your talents, or simply a few minutes of your time to a friend in need. However, understand that you can’t just donate an hour of your time once a year. Research shows that you need to be charitable on a regular basis to receive the positive benefits of doing so.XResearch source
- Try doing something you love as a volunteer activity. Again, this helps you to put your own life in perspective, especially if you volunteer with people, animals, or situations that are far worse off than you’ve ever been.XResearch source
- For example, if you love animals, volunteer as often as you can at the local shelter. If you love children, see if you can volunteer at a local foster home or community center.
- 5Search for a new career. Perhaps you have already tried changing your attitude about your current job without results. It may be time for you to look for other job options.
- Before ending up in another job that feels meaningless to you, take the time to write down the things you value in life. For example, you might value kindness, or you might value generosity. You might value helping people, or making people laugh. Write down every single thing that comes into your mind. Doing this can help you identify things you might enjoy doing.
- Consider the activities you wouldn’t mind doing for free. For example, if you enjoy volunteering in soup kitchens, why not turn it into a career helping the homeless. There are many non-profit organizations who require people to organize housing, develop advocacy programs, and/or provide counseling.
- It may also be possible to do an internship in a position you think you might be interested in. This will help you decide whether or not the job is right for you without making huge life changes.
- 6Be courageous. Reflecting on your daily habits is scary. It requires you to really be honest with yourself about how you live your life. You may have to make big changes to get to that sense of purpose, and it is a journey that you will spend your whole life on.XResearch source
- If you decide that what you really want to be doing with your life is something that requires big life changes (e.g. moving around the world, investing a lot of your savings, or shaking up your daily routine), then you really have to try and look past your fear. Fear often keeps us from doing what we really want to be doing.XResearch source
- Building confidence and acknowledging your fears can help you build courage.
- Create meaning in your life. Meaning will not come to you without work. In order to find your purpose, you will have to put in effort through reflection on your values and thinking about the perspective we choose to take. Don’t expect meaning to just come to you.
- Your favorite subject in school is an outstanding, motivating factor that aids you in reading books in the library. When you're reading, take notes on those books so you get to learn valuable information to make you smarter and it adds significant meaning to your life.
- Finding meaning in your life likely includes a lot of self-reflection, which can sometimes be scary and/or emotionally painful. Know that this is part of the process. If it feels like too much, write in a journal or talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or family member, or a mental health professional.
About This Article
To add meaning to your life, stop focusing on what you don’t have and start expressing gratitude for the things you do have, such as good friends, a comfortable bed, or a pet. Being charitable adds meaning to your life as well, so think about the things you love to do and find a way to do them as a volunteer for a non-profit organization. You can also find meaning through your work by thinking about how it helps others--for example, a babysitter helps parents by giving them the freedom to leave home without their children. To learn more, including how being compassionate can make your life more meaningful, keep reading!