Make It Meaningful

Living a life of purpose might be the ideal, but how to do it isn't always clear.

Photograph by Amy Covington/Stocky United

1. SET AN INTENTION

Purpose isn’t always obvious as we go through our day. In fact, the routine of daily life sometimes feels like the antithesis of meaning. That’s where intention comes in, says Parneet Pal of Wisdom Labs. “[It] can help you align your conscious thinking with a primal emotional drive…like reward, connection, purpose, self-identity and core values.”
Upon rising, before you do anything else, try this:

  1. Sit up in bed or in a nearby chair. Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body.
  2. Take three long, deep breaths. Then let your breath settle into its own rhythm.
  3. Think about the people and activities you will face today. Ask yourself:
    • How might I show up to have the best impact?
    • What quality of mind do I want to strengthen?
    • In difficult moments, how might I be more compassionate?
  4. Set an intention for the day. Then, pause to revisit your intention throughout the day. Over time, you might notice how the quality of your communications, relationships, and sense of purpose shifts.

2. PICK A PILLAR

Psychologist and The Power of Meaning author Emily Esfahani Smith spent five years researching what constitutes a meaningful life. Strengthening even one of the resulting “four pillars” will support the quest for greater meaning in anyone’s life, she says.

Belonging: This comes from our relationships, from feeling valued for who we are and from valuing others. “It’s a choice—you can choose to cultivate belonging with others.”
Purpose: Without something worthwhile to do, we flounder, Esfahani Smith writes. And the key to purpose is using your strengths to serve others. This may be through your career, or it could be in walking shelter animals. What’s the “why” that drives you forward?
Transcendence: The moments when we’re “lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life [and] feel connected to a higher reality” have the power to change us, Esfahani Smith says. In one study, students who contemplated 200-foot eucalyptus trees for just one minute felt more centered and behaved more generously.
Storytelling: We each have a personal narrative that helps us to understand who we are. “But we don’t always realize that we’re the authors of our stories and can change the way we’re telling them. You can edit, interpret, and retell your story, even as you’re constrained by the facts,” she says. Can you tease out elements of purpose in your life story? If so, let them help you chart a course forward.

3. WHAT’S LIFE ASKING OF YOU?

Instead of worrying about the meaning of life, craft a life that has meaning to you right where you are, advises Chip Conley, the founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre hotels. In Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness & Success, Conley tackles the existential question “What’s the meaning of life?” and concludes that meaning is a DIY job. “Lots of people are so distracted by searching for the light at the end of the tunnel that they cannot see clearly what’s right next to them,” he writes. “Creating an abstract idea of meaning can just become another distraction. What is life asking of you right now? Can you light a figurative candle in your hand to illuminate this moment so that you and those around you can make a difference today?”

PARTING THOUGHT

Small Moments Matter
You don’t need a big “aha” moment to spur you to meaningful action. How can you make a difference right now, where you stand? Maybe you can show up at home tonight as a role model for your family. Or perhaps become a mentor at work. “Meaning can find you anywhere—in a park with your kids or in a lunch conversation with a coworker—just be open (and willing) to be found,” Chip Conley writes.

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