7 Ways to Make Your Life More Meaningful

What a person needs is not a relaxed state, but rather to strive and struggle for a worthy goal. ~ Victor Frankl

Most of us want to lead a happy life. That’s natural, because pleasure is more attractive than pain. But should happiness be the ultimate goal in life – as the Positive Psychology movement proposes?

There is an easy way to find out. All you need to do is to answer a simple question:

What were the three most significant moments of your life?

The three most significant moments in my life were the birth of my son, the death of my mother, and my promotion to 1. Dan Blackbelt in karate. Non of these three moments could be described as pleasurable. Giving birth is incredibly painful – until you look into your baby’s eyes. The death of my mother was a time of both grief and joy, and the promotion to Blackbelt was the toughest three hours I’ve ever spent in my life.

Although these three key experiences weren’t pleasurable at the time, they gave my life meaning. Now, when I look back, I experience satisfaction and a sense of joy. It’s the joy that comes from living a meaningful life.

Is your life meaningful?

Seven Ways To Make Your Life Meaningful:

1. Follow your aspirations. Sometimes we confuse aspirations with personal goals, but they are completely different. Aspirations are the answer to the question: “What do I want to give the world?” Whereas personal goals are the answer to the question, “What do I want the world to give me?”

2. Be passionate. Whenever you do something that you are passionate about, it gives meaning to life. Sometimes it can be difficult to balance work, relationships, and passion. But a life without being passionate about something can feel empty.

3. Live by your code of ethics. Every person needs a personal ethical code to have a meaningful life. An ethical code is a set of values that you uphold, even if the consequences might be painful for yourself.

4. Cultivate compassionate. Compassion happens when we stop being the center of our concern, and open to the suffering of others. If we focus on ourselves as the center of the universe and our thoughts revolve around how we were, how we will be, or how others see us – our life will ultimately feel meaningless. Compassion is a way of looking beyond our own needs, to those of others.

5. Be kind. Kindness is not just a feeling, it’s an emotion that leads to action. Kindness gives warmth to a life. Each kind interaction triggers a feeling of connection and pleasure. Actually, kind action is something that gives meaning to your life AND makes you feel happy!

6. Be in service to a greater cause. A great way to give depth and meaning to your life is to do volunteer work. Whether you coach a basketball team for streetkids, or help out with the elderly, or raise money to alleviate world poverty, whenever you step in to serve a greater cause, you give your life meaning.

7. Strive for a better future. Striving for a better future can take many forms, but it always entails developing as a human being. If you strive for a better future, you subscribe to life-long learning. New skills make us more effective in the world, both for our own life, as well as for the cause we serve.

So what about happiness? How do meaning and happiness intersect? My take is that happiness is the by-product of a meaningful life. On its own – as a life goal – happiness can feel shallow. But once you focus on leading a meaningful life, you will feel fulfilled and experience not only fleeting sensations of happiness, but a lasting sense of joy.

What’s your take on this?
Is happiness a worthy life goal? What are your tips for a meaningful life?

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Comments

  1. I think it’s far too easy to say “be of service to others”. I walked that road for many years, then quit because it simply depleted me. Most volunteer work is just that, work. I’ve worked at many volunteer organizations and all entry level people are involved with is fundraising. And why is giving of oneself supposedly the way to happiness? I know of far too many people for whom the selfless life led to resentment, exhaustion, and bitterness.
    The problem with aspirations is there isn’t always going to be someone or something which wants what you have to give, and that is a fact. People want something useful, someone they can use. If you’re not “useful”, then what? Are we only worthy as human beings if we’re usable to each other, like tools in a shed? My life has value independent of whether I’m useful or usable to any other human being. I do not need to throw my self away to be worthwhile.
    Giving as an end in itself is a one-way life, endlessly throwing oneself down a bottomless hole; while our own hearts feed on themselves out of emotional starvation and neglect.

  2. Hello people…
    I found this page because I’m having some kind of a “down” for quite some time.
    And unfortunatly what I read here didn’t help at all.
    To get to the points

    1. Follow your aspirations.
    I do. Always focused on how to make the world a better place for those around me.
    The result is that they take everything for granted then and expect you to do stuff for them, no “thanks” required.
    It makes me sad.

    2. Be passionate.
    I am. There are very little things I’m not into… And when I get my head around something I’m 100% into it.
    Art, maths, programing, science…
    It just becomes boring real fast when you have nobody to share it with.

    3. Live by your code of ethics.
    I do… Have been bullied a lot when I was little…
    I swore that I would never become like those people, and I didn’t.
    Didn’t give me satifaction though, mainly because i see 95% of the world bullying others around all the time.
    So my doing has very little or no impact on what is going on worldwide.

    4. Cultivate compassionate.
    Turn on the news, read on the internet, understand that what you know is not 1/100 of reality.
    Most people just believe what they read and hear without thinking. Of course the medias know this.
    This renders the population naive and me sad…

    5. Be kind.
    I am… At least I think I am…
    The issue is that if you are really kind, it means you want to help people.
    Well people often don’t want to hear the stuff that could help them, and they certainly don’t realize at all, that it actually helped them…
    A “passive” kindness, where you just put sugar on an issue, will only make things worse.
    It creates happy zombies that walk around with pink glasses :P

    6. Be in service to a greater cause.
    In my case, the greater cause is the evolution of human mind.
    Unfortunatly people centered on something else then themselves have become an endangered species.

    7. Strive for a better future.
    I do… I’m trying to understand the world in order to make it better. Studied Economics, Arts and Informatics, speak 4 languages and have infinite amounts of interests in all kinds of stuff.
    It doesn’t give my life any meaning though. On the contrary, it makes my life very unimportant as I am one of many, on a small rock in space called earth, that is in return just one on many, and so on…
    In the end the better futur we could fight for, is only the ones we live on our small end of the universe / continent? / country? / village?…
    You see where I’m going there? the more you refine it to what “matters”, the more you become self-centered…
    The more you think about “greater cause” it becomes irrelevant since we are insignificant in the universe.

    So yeah… Even if you respect all these 7 rules, you still have the same nothingness in your life imo.

    • Frances says:

      Hallo, some truth in your reply. Missing link may be no amount of psychology in the end makes life feel really worth the bother of. Loving God does. Try religion.

  3. Greetings Mary,

    Reading the introductory paragraph where you said that the death of your mother was a period of grief and….. joy gave me a little shock. I meditated a few seconds over it, and looking back to the pains of my grandmother, I think I can relate to liberation that you could feel, and that your mother received as she went on to a new dimension of her progress. Also, I heard many people (especially men) experience a kind of new freedom when one of their ancestors die, since some controlling factors are now gone with the wind. Is that true?

    Also, I admire you for being able to see the positiveness, the joy even in death. Because hard moments definitely teach us a lot and struggle gives a lot of meaning to our lives. Awesome article :)

    Hugs,
    Zoli
    .-= Zoli Cserei´s last blog ..Welcome to Simply Will Do, my dearest readers! =-.

  4. The things that give my life meaning are helping others (particularly through things like child sponsorship/donations), spending time with my family, and learning more about everything – being interested in learning.

  5. Hi Mary, thank you for a great article. I personally believe that we achieve happiness through being useful and blessing the people around us with what we do and how we do it.

  6. 6. Be in service to a greater cause

    Being part of a greater cause is essential to giving life meaning and purpose!

  7. You asked: “Is happiness a worthy life goal?” In my view, happiness is first a by-product of a living a life that is deeply meaningful to you. I’m not talking about the quick-fix pleasure type of happiness, but the prolonged sense of well being that comes from serving or creating something of value.

    I love this quote from Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement: “I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” (This is from Seligman’s Authentic Happiness — To learn more about your unique signature strengths, go to http://www.authentichappiness.org, sign up for your free membership, and work through the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire.)

    I just published a 25 minute podcast that describes my “10 Specific Actions That Can Help You Become Happier” Here they are in a nutshell:
    1. Turn off the local news; it’s not real.
    2. Turn off the national & world news; it’s not real either.
    3. Turn off political talk shows; they simply pick at wounds.
    4. Connect with positive media that enlighten & challenge you.
    5. Create something, grow something, nurture someone, and use your signature strengths.
    6. Exercise. Move.
    7. Perform a simple act of kindness.
    8. Stop complaining.
    9. Express gratitude frequently.
    10. Practice mindfulness and mindful meditation.
    The 25-minute podcast provides explanation & examples, as well as suggestions for applying to your project team/family.
    Enjoy!
    .-= Mike Greer´s last blog ..10 Specific Actions That Can Help You Become Happier =-.

  8. HI Mary,
    I loved your take on making life more meaningful. INfact i agree with what youre saying.
    Giving birth to a little girl for me was so highly painful, but yes..the minute I looked at those beautiful eyes, my pain was taken over by joy so instantly. I so agree with you on how so many experiences that are meaningful and beautiful are actually a lot of hardwork.
    As for happiness…well its the Perfect and most worthy goal a person could work towards in his/her lifetime. Cause it covers all aspects of our lives. Also happiness as a state of being is better than a big goal for me personally…cause then in the end…there will not be any regrets :) We would have lived a happy and fulfilling life..and will remember each and every happy moment of it.

    Hey Steven,
    Awesome New Writer on CYT! I loved her insight :) Thank you.
    .-= Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..The Decision To Be You =-.

  9. @Annette
    Your comment is very moving. It’s true that we can lose our way, or as you say, get “…a ’skewed’ perspective of life. It is so very hard to climb back up and get on that track again.”

    I’m happy that my post was helpful. You’ve already taken the most important step – which is recognizing that you need to recover from a ‘skewed’ perspective. Well done!
    .-= Mary |Goodlife ZEN´s last blog ..Are You Depressed? How to Recover Without Medication =-.

  10. @Ideas with a Kick
    To be ‘authentic’ sounds easy. But many people have lived with a false persona for so long, they don’t actually know any more what their ‘authentic self’ is like. I think helping others is a great way to rediscover who we are. Because when we ar in service to others, we tend to forget about ourselves… and that’s when we’re most authentic.
    .-= Mary |Goodlife ZEN´s last blog ..Are You Depressed? How to Recover Without Medication =-.

  11. Hi Mary, great to read you here. I totally agree, your 7 points are excellent, especially you’re distinction between aspirations and personal goals. And I couldn’t agree more, that happiness is a by-product of a meaningful life. Thanks for sharing this.

    Cheers,
    Miche :)
    .-= Miche | Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Regaining Inner Peace When You’re Busy: Walking Gratitude Meditation =-.

  12. I believe that happiness is a choice we make everyday. Our attitude determines if we are happy or not and we have total control of that. Thanks for the well-written post :)
    .-= Martha Giffen´s last blog ..Bloggers and Blog Readers Unite =-.

  13. I’m with Gareth. I think there’s an unfortunate and narrow interpretation of the word “happiness” that often makes people think of self-centeredness, hedonism and an avoidance of difficulty. It’s easy to see why this happens but I think it deprives us of really good resources if we let it get in the way. Positive psychology seems to me to be setting itself up in opposition to mental-illness-focused psychology, not in opposition to hard work, struggle, altruism or even pain. I think real happiness IS a result of all of those things. It’s hard to find meaning and satisfaction if life consists solely of the things that are perhaps the most obvious sources (i.e. hedonism). We do a disservice to the word “happiness” and to positive psychology if we reduce them to the smiley face and ignore what a striving for happiness might have to offer if we allow it to have a richer meaning.

  14. Hi Mary,
    What an inspiring article to be aspiring! I found it very helpful. As a subscriber to this site which I refere to as part of my pursuit of self-development, the point I would like to make is that for myself, recovering from a prolonged period of depression and low self-esteem, cultivating a passionate approach to anything is a very hard task indeed, even if rationally it is the right thing to do. I particularly admire the words of Rani Bora who recognises that for some of us who have, or have had a ‘skewed’ perspective of life (for whatever reason) it is so very hard to climb back up and get on that track again. This is why all the articles on this site are so incredibly helpful, because for me, not only do I get to read some very thought provoking material, but also, I often come across some very thought provoking replies/responses. Reading Mary’s and Rani’s thoughts could not come at a better time for me as I have been questioning the idea of ‘choice’ myself, because it seems rather simplistic. Thankyou to both of you for your suggestions because they are most caring and well articulated.

  15. Hey Mary,

    I thing it’s interesting that a lot of the 7 ways relate somehow with being authentic or contributing to other peoples lives. In my work, I notice with a lot of people these are some of their most powerful drives in life.

    Eduard
    .-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..How to avoid the holiday madness and enjoy yourself =-.

  16. @Jonathan
    I love what you say: “Happiness is a byproduct of serving other.” Lovely!
    .-= Mary |Goodlife ZEN´s last blog ..Are You Depressed? How to Recover Without Medication =-.

  17. @ Armen
    Yes, I agree with you – kindness is a core value. And the great thing is that we can learn to be kinder. My next Virtual Zen Retreat in February is called, “The Miracle of Kindness” and we will explore how to cultivate kindness. The retreat is free and you can find info about it here: http://goodlifezen.com/virtual-retreats/
    .-= Mary |Goodlife ZEN´s last blog ..Are You Depressed? How to Recover Without Medication =-.

  18. @Steven
    It’s great to visit you all her on CYT. I love your blog and your friendly community.
    .-= Mary |Goodlife ZEN´s last blog ..Are You Depressed? How to Recover Without Medication =-.

  19. Hello Mary,

    I’m not sure that the Positive Psychology movement defines happiness in a narrow way that excludes “meaningful struggle”. I have just finished Tal Ben-Shahar’s book “Happier” and that fully acknowledges the role of meaning, service, altruism and so on. I enjoyed it.

    Gareth

  20. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for the interesting read and for your insights and tips. They are indeed helpful. I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

    I believe happiness is an attitude rather than a goal and one could very well make it a rule for living a meaningful life.

    For some people, traumatic experiences may be the most relived moments of their lives, thereby becoming significant moments in the process. A few find a greater meaning even out of their suffering while others sucuumb to their psychological wounds. The latter group find it harder to be happy or find happiness and in their pursuit of happiness, may take several short cuts and even rely on self destructive means. We could explore with them the aspiration question- ‘What do I (you) want to give the world?’ or even ‘What could I (you) give the world?’. Not many consider themselves in a position to give back something, perhaps because their world is centred around their unmet needs. Some may have deeply ingrained assumptions e.g of how the world is a dangerous place or how people only inflict pain etc. They may not want to give anything back to the world. It is easy to give up on them and say “Well, that’s a choice they are making” which could be true. However if we could practice compassion, empathy, listen to their stories and help them find a greater cause for their suffering, for their existence, we will be making our lives and their lives meaningful.

    With warmth,

    Rani
    .-= Rani Bora´s last blog ..Fall in Love with Your Work, All Over Again! =-.

  21. Hi Marry great artical and a lot to think about and more impotently act on. One thing I do disagree with is that a personnel goal is what we want the world to give us. To me that casts every personnel goal in a negative light. I think of personnel goals as what am I willing to work for.

    for me an important characteristic of a meaningful life is that it is shared. By sharing both the good times and the bad with those around us we gain so much then just living a life of isolation. Being ready to teach what you know when a student presents themselves to you is as impotent as remembering to be a student when you find your self in the presents of a teacher.
    .-= Quinn´s last blog ..Putting an end to procrastination =-.

  22. Hi Mary, I really enjoyed your perspective here. My favorite line was “…happiness is the by-product of a meaningful life. I would take it one step farther and say that happiness is a byproduct of serving others. Too many people think that they can pursue happiness as direct goal. They by into the idea that selfish pursuits will eventually lead to true happiness. I hate to be the one to say it, but that bag has a giant hole in it.

    Your 7 points include several that are centered on compassion and empathy. This balanced approach can lead to meaningful happiness because it involves awareness of those around us and seeks to raise them up as well as ourselves.
    .-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is Your Integrity For Sale? =-.

  23. Hi Mary.

    Our aspirations are big. Only we have our own specific ones, and so we have to battle for them while they are there. It is like having a tasty mushroom to eat that no one else has, and we aren’t eating it if we don’t follow our aspirations.

    Being kind is worth it in the short and long run, because no one wants to support someone who isn’t kind, and at the same time, others will respond with kindness right back when you provide it. We only have so much time to show our character in.
    .-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Discussion On Long Versus Short-Term Efforts =-.

  24. Hi Mary

    I’d like to welcome you to CYT and hope you find the readers here welcoming. It’s a while since I first met you online in Leo’s A-List Blogging Club but it’s been a pleasure knowing you thus far.

    The article is a great one for CYT and I loved how you defined the difference between aspirations and goals.

    Thanks Mary

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