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Published on November 15, 2018

What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose

What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose

“What is the meaning of life?”

is one of the most fundamental and enduring questions which has captivated the greatest minds of mankind for centuries.

The answers, as varied as they come, go back to the very, very beginning of things—to our existence, to the reasons why humans were created, to our quest for self-improvement, and, of course, to religion.

There is hardly a shortage of interpretations of what the “good life” is about, what makes us happy and fulfilled, and what we can do to get to this coveted state.

If you talk to a scientist—say, a physicist and biologist, about the purpose of our being, they will likely tell you the fascinating story of the Big Bang, the origins of universe’s existence, and the evolution of the species to where we are today.

But evolution is not what really drives us and makes us to want to keep living and persisting through life’s adversities, is it? It is a whole lot more than this. It is what makes us human—our minds, our sense of self-awareness, our ambitions, dreams and goals.

So, when you ruminate on your reasons for being, you should actually think along the lines of your values, progress, community, family, and, yes—reproduction.

What Wise Men Through History Believed a Life of Purpose to Be

Before we unpack these elements of meaning, let’s take a step back and see what wise men through history believed a life of purpose to be.[1]

The Greeks

The ancient Greeks believed in the concept of “eudamonia” which translates as “happiness” or “welfare.” All the great Greek philosophers—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle— believed that the good life means to live in a state of eudaimonia. The interpretations of what it means vary. Some used to think that purpose can be found in acquiring virtues (as self-control, courage, wisdom).

Aristotle, for instance, believed that eudaimonia required not only a good character, but taking actions and achieving excellence. Epicurus—another prominent Greek—understood the good life as one of pleasure and freedom from pain and suffering.

Cynicism

The famous Greek school of thought believed that the purpose of life is living a life of Virtue which agrees with Nature. The happy life is the simple one, they taught—free from possessions, rejecting the desires for wealth, possessions, fame or sex. Rather, people should undergo rigorous training and live in a most natural to them way.

Stoicism

The Stoic school of thought, found by Zeno of Citium around 300 B.C. considered the good life to be “living in agreement with nature.” Stoicism advocates doing good while staying calm, focusing on what’s important and under our control, not wasting thoughts on what we can’t affect.

Happiness is:

“found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.”

Theism

Theists believed in the existence of a deity—a God, who created the universe. Our life’s purpose, then, is aligned with God’s purpose in creating the universe and it is God that gives our lives meaning, purpose and values. Without Him, life will be empty.

Existentialism

According to this 20th century philosophy, supported by famous minds as Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, all human beings have free will. It’s believed that each person gives meaning to their own life, not the society or religion. Therefore, everyone’s purpose is unique and subjective to their circumstances and understanding.

Or, simply put, our lives’ meaning is what we decide it to be.

What Creates Meaning for Your Life?

Based on the above brief walk through history, it seems that the interpretation of what infuses our existence with meaning and purpose somewhat varies depending on the historical period and the school of thought.

But undeniably, there are still some commonalities and recurring ideas. Our reason for being emerges as something greater than ourselves—such as serving God’s will or contributing to society. At the same time, it’s all nuanced because it’s refracted through our individual prisms.

Still, the things that may be good candidates for meaning-creators in our lives can be separated in few main categories, as I wrote recently :

Social

As human beings are social creatures, we have an innate need to connect to others, to be part of a group, to sense that we belong, and that we have someone who cares about us.

According to the longest study on happiness and life satisfaction[2]—which spanned over 75 years, the good life lies in the quality of our relationships. “Time with others,” Prof. Waldinger, who led the research tells us, “protects us from the bruises of life’s ups and downs.”

But it’s not only our friendships that make life worth living. It’s our families, children, siblings. It’s all the people who we feel love and affection for and who, in turn, give us theirs.

Achievement

Although tying our worth solely to the outcome of our endeavors can create an unstable sense of self-esteem, we still want the net of our successes to outnumber that of our failings. We want to sense that we are moving forward, progressing, realizing our goals. Studies have found that achievements bring greater meaning to our everyday lives.[3]

And it’s not the lure of the limelight or the desire for kudos that will make our existence worthwhile. It’s the recognition of our efforts, the appreciation, the acknowledgement that counts. In other words, we want our actions to matter and make a difference.

Competence, Knowledge and Expertise

These purpose-drivers are closely linked to the concept of achievement.

Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner, best known for his principle of attachment, once said:

“Life itself is a process of acquiring knowledge.”

Becoming the best at what we do is a large part of the self-improvement movement today. It’s perhaps most famously expressed in the Japanese notions of kaizen and shokunin. Kaizen is the process of continuous improvement—through leaning and gaining expertise, to better ourselves. It’s a way of life.

Shokunin means craftman. And it’s about taking pride in what we do and in ourselves. It’s the drive to become better—personally and professionally.

How to Craft Your Own Meaning of Life

In reality, though, there are many more shades and understandings of a life well-spent than the three categories listed above.

Here are some further ideas on where to look for your own sense of purpose and fulfillment.

1. Be aware of what makes you happy

This includes your passions, the desire for connecting to others, for reading, writing, travelling, staying in shape. These activities that you enjoy, although they may not give you The One Meaning of your life, still carry a great potential to make you fulfilled and happy.

They are spurs of joy. You can call them mini-meanings, which, over time, may contribute to your bigger goals and purpose.

But today, they will still offer you something to look forward to, a reason to wake up in the morning. And who’s to say “no” to this?

2. Reproduction

Evolutionary biology provides us with the very primal reason behind our existence on Earth as humans—to ensure that the human race doesn’t become extinct. That is, meaning comes down to survival and continuance of our kin.

In this vein, having children and family is often at or near the top spot when people talk about what makes life worth living. This is also liked to our basic need to belong, to have someone to share our successes with, to have a shoulder to cry on, to care about.

3. Desire to leave a mark in the world

With the realization of the transience of our lives comes a natural desire to create something of value to leave to the world, to matter in some way, to make a difference.

We all have the capacity to influence others’ lives—some on a smaller scale than others, true, but regardless—it’s the intention and the actions that matters. You can begin with one small thing—whatever it is that matters to you and build on it.

For instance, you like animals. Adopt a puppy—give them a better life. You can also volunteer at your local food shelter, or start separating your garbage to help the planet.

It is as Mother Teresa once said:

“We can do no great things, but small things with great love.”

A meaningful life is about caring.

How to Lead a Meaningful Life

1. Be compassionate and care about yourself

Per research by the British National Health Service in 2014, there are five steps we can take to lead more meaningful lives:[4]

  • Connect with community and family
  • Physical exercise
  • Lifelong learning
  • Giving to others
  • Mindfulness of the world around you.

What these recommendations imply is that what brings sunshine into our lives is finding the ways to care about ourselves and to do what makes us feel good.

There is barely a need to convince you of the benefits of giving and meditations—these are well established—to both our physical and mental health.

Being kind, compassionate and help others are, indeed, the winning behaviors to an increased longevity, decreased stressed and depression. So that we can also experience life in all its colourfulness.

2. Make yourself useful

According to Darius Foroux —a famous entrepreneur, author and influencer, the meaning of life is not to seek happiness, but to make ourselves useful.[5]

“It comes down to this — what are you DOING that’s making a difference?”

Rather than seeking happiness and meaning through the material things, we must engage in acts of usefulness—to help and make others happy, to create something.

“The last thing I want is to be on my deathbed and realize there’s zero evidence that I ever existed.”

3. Connect with the world

Another influencer—Alain de Botton, the founder of the famous blog The School of Life, believes that the meaning of life comes down to three activities:[6]

  • Communication
  • Understanding
  • Service

“Some of our most meaningful moments are to do with instances of connection,” he writes, be it to a person, song or a book, for instance. It takes us out of our isolation. Understanding is our ability to make sense of the world. And service is to work on improving others’ lives.

4. Use the PURE model

Finally, Peter Wong—a Canadian existential psychologist, has proposed a model, known as PURE for individuals to discover meaning in their lives:[7]

  • P stands for purpose and having worthy goals.
  • U denotes understating—of who we are and of the world around us.
  • R means that we have sole responsibility to choose the life we want and to own our actions and their consequences.
  • E is the need for evaluation, to ensure we are on track with our goals.

Therefore, as you can summon, there are many avenues you can explore that will bring you a sense of purpose. It’s true that you may sometimes feel that your actions are just a drop in the ocean, that you are too small to make a difference.

But it’s not true.

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Meaning is about bringing out the best in you, about doing good by yourself and others. And if we all commit to the goal of improving ourselves and the world we live in—as cliché as it sounds—and we truly believe it, then collectively—the single drop can grow up to become a wave.

Now it’s your turn to fill in the blank:

There Is More to Life Than ____________

Summing It All Up

The quest for meaning in our lives is perhaps the most important driver behind everything that we do. It’s the reason behind all reasons.

Some of the most prominent ways to build your purpose is by creating your own tribe; by striving to become a better version of yourself; by helping and serving others, and by setting goals and striving to achieve them.

What makes it challenging to put our finger on what purpose means exactly is that it’s a rather vast concept. It can be interpreted as many things by each one of us.

But then, maybe, there is no One and Only Meaning in life. Perhaps a better way to view our purpose and existence is more as a mosaic—each experience, each facet in our lives—family, friends, achievements, recognitions—constitutes a piece. You have to look at it in its totality to be able to say if you are happy with the picture you yourself have painted.

Or, perhaps, it is as Viktor Frankl said:

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

And each of us has the freedom to decide on what this is.

Featured photo credit: Donald Giannatti via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason Midlife Crisis for Women: How a Midlife Crisis Makes You a Better Person What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently

Let me begin by being 100% frank with you – everyone is capable of happiness.

Happiness is first a choice but it also takes persistence to maintain. Happiness is our birth right and my mission is to help as many people as I can live their happiest life.

My mission is to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness.

To live a happy life; however, you must do the work, gain the necessary knowledge, and increase your awareness.

You must fully embody this state and begin to think and feel happiness on every level of your being.

Often times, excuses present themselves and our mind gives us the reasons why we can’t be happy:

“I am too busy right now to focus on happiness”

“I will be happy when I finish school, when I have the money, when I am in the right relationship, when I have kids, when my children are older….”

“I would have had a happy life if this traumatic event had never happened”

“I don’t deserve happiness”

EVERYONE deserves happiness. The reason that you are here right now is because you have a purpose and you are on the earth to enjoy your journey.

Think BIGGER than your excuses. Push FARTHER than your complaints.

Don’t be pulled away from greatness. Get uncomfortable. At least these are what happy and successful people do on a daily basis.

This article highlights the top 13 tips and tricks of how happy people think and feel.

If you would like to begin embodying this life-changing state, then… Here are the 13 ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently:

1. Happy People Put Happiness First

Happy people have made the decision that their end goal is happiness.

Every situation, event, bad day ultimately ends with happiness.

To them, happiness is equivalent to sleep and water – it is a necessity to their life. To live an unhappy life is to have never lived at all.

The happy person asks,

“What would be the point of living if every day and moment were filled with negativity?”

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“Why would I deplete my energy on negativity when I expend less to be positive?”

They make happy-based decisions which means in EVERY MOMENT they choose happiness.

If their circumstances can’t change then they instead change their perspective, they look for the silver lining in the negative.

Happy people don’t let negativity steal their moments away – a positive mindset always prevails.

If you ask a happy person how their day was, they will always answer your question with a highlight or a lesson learned.

2. Happy People Embrace Pain

I know what you are thinking –

“No one is ALWAYS happy”

or …

“Even happy people get in bad moods”

and …

These statements are absolutely accurate.

Happy people aren’t always happy and they DO get into bad moods. They get overwhelmed, they feel defeated, and their feelings get hurt.

Happy people aren’t invincible and they feel pain just like everyone else. The only difference between happy people and people who let negativity run their lives is that…

Happy people quickly acknowledge their pain and they make a decision to find a way to transform their pain into something greater. They also use these 13 simple ways to shake off the sadness.

Happy people admit the negativity they feel and they do what it takes to get back into their natural state: happiness.

When your end goal is happiness, then you will find a way to achieve it no matter how much strength you have to muster.

3. Happy People Have a Happy Self-Image

We all have an image in our minds that we subconsciously live up to.

The reason that change is so hard is because our subconscious mind is programmed to live by how we define ourselves.

How are you currently defining yourself?

For happy people, they see themselves with a smile, positive outlook, and/or a bounce in their step. When an event or situation arises that brings in a negative emotion, they quickly change their state to resemble their natural self-image.

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When happy people are in a bad mood, it feels unusual to them because feeling negative isn’t aligned with how they see themselves.

When they feel upset, they acknowledge the negativity and look for a solution to bring their emotions to the level of how they perceive themselves.

Look at how you define yourself today – your mind and body are always trying to live up to the definition it is taught to believe.

Your body’s job is to keep you in a “normal” state because this is where it feels most comfortable.

If your self-image is happy, then your mind and body will naturally be brought back to where it feels at home. Your actions will be a clue to how you define yourself.

4. Happy People Have a Strong Support System

The happiest people know that it takes a village and they lean on others for support.

Happy people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they feel that their resistances are overpowering them. They quickly sense their negativity and they tell somebody.

Happy people ask for assistance when they can’t figure out a problem. Seeking help takes strength and it never gets in the way of their self-worth. Happy people appreciate the wisdom that their support system provides.

They have strong connections with the people who are close to them. They never trudge through tough times alone because jeopardizing their happiness for too long would be detrimental to their well-being.

5. Happy People Safeguard Their Minds from Negative Triggers

Warding off negativity is almost impossible when we live in a society that lives by what went wrong and feeds off of what could go wrong. News travels instantaneously so it would be unrealistic to shut this out of your life completely.

However, one strategy that happy people use to safeguard their minds is regulating their environment.

We have a lot of control on how we allow our environments to affect us. We can control our social media feed, the television shows and movies we watch, the books that we read, the people that we spend our time with, and the places that we hang out.

If happiness is your end goal, then take a good look at what is bringing you down. What triggers your unhappiness? See if there is anything in your environment that can be changed……

What we listen to, read, and who we hang out with influence our mind, what we think about, what we worry about, our reactions, and behaviors.

Happy people know what triggers a feeling of negativity and it feels out of alignment for them so they do what it takes to avoid it.

They might regulate their social media news feed to reflect the information that brings them positive energy. They might regulate the people that they spend their time with. It is important to hang out with like-minded people.

What are you triggers? How can you avoid the negativity in your environment?

These are ways that happy people regulate their environment and safeguard their minds.

6. Happy People Know When to Say “No”

Happy people know when to sit one out and say “no.” They do this to protect their happiness and well-being.

Life gets overwhelming – a lot of people need our attention and the to do list can seem never ending.

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Happy people give themselves permission to take the day off and they feel comfortable with saying “no” when their stress levels begin to climb. They understand that those around them aren’t benefiting from someone who is frazzled, overwhelmed, and tired.

A happy person identifies their negative emotion and then they quickly treat it to bring themselves back to their “normal” state, so that they can be at their best for not only themselves but for those around them, too.

A simple “no” can ultimately mean many more “yes’s” in the future because happiness has a long battery life. You can take a look at Leo Babauta’s article The Gentle Art of Saying No and learn to say no.

7. Happy People Are Good Evaluators

Happy people can quickly sense when something is off with themselves or others. They are very intuitive to happiness levels. When someone isn’t quite right, they are the first ones to notice.

Being able to evaluate happiness means that you can identify when negativity is lingering around for too long.

We all have bad days; however, the happy person evaluates often and quickly intervenes.

In other words, happy people frequently evaluate their state and immediately change when their pessimism is overshadowing their joy.

8. Happy People Bring Other People Up

What goes on inside of us is mirrored into our physical world.

What we think about literally consumes our life and is displayed in our work, relationships, and attitude.

Happy people naturally feel good inside and about themselves so they treat others the way that they treat themselves. It never feels forced to give a compliment or to help out a stranger.

When we are truly happy with ourselves, everyone around us has a better experience. Happy people are kind to themselves and because of this, it feels natural to them to want to make others’ happy, too.

9. Happy People Go After Their Dreams

Happy people are always following the joyful path. They make happy-based decisions and because of this, they always end up where they want to be.

It’s absolutely impossible to be happy by following an undesirable path, which is quite opposite for unhappy people.

Most people journey through life on a path they think they are “supposed” to be own. Warning signs (negativity) are often ignored because they truly believe that these feelings are a normal part of life.

Negativity is NOT normal.

The happiest people investigate the negativity in their life and quickly analyze the results. This process allows them to get back on the joyful path which ends in a desirable outcome.

Follow your happiness and your dreams will come true (If that isn’t motivation then I don’t know what is!)

In addition to happiness, here are 14 amazing things that happen when you live your passion.

10. Happy People Never Sweat the Small Stuff

The only expectation that the happy person has is that they remain in a joyful state.

They rarely have expectations for the events and people in their lives because they know that this is a sure way to get let down.

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The happiest people take life as it comes – you could say that they roll with the punches. When you don’t have expectations, thenyoue can just sit back and watch how beautifully life unfolds.

Happy people understand that bad things are inevitable, they are a part of life – The car will break, the kids will make mistakes, people will be late, and dinner will burn.

If it’s not anything seriously affecting their lives, then they don’t give their energy to it.

11. Happy People Rarely Have to Prove That They Are Right

Happy people remember that it’s more important to live up to what they believe. When you live your life aligned with your belief system, then there is no need to explain or prove yourself to others.

Differences in opinions are inevitable, but the happiest of people know it’s wasted energy to defend their position.

It is more effective to simply show people, through actions, how you think, feel, and what you believe.

Energy is saved, arguments are diminished, and credibility/respect are gained when we live by what we believe.

12. Happy People Smile (Even When They Don’t Want To)

Smiling is one of the healthiest things we can do; and happy people use this simple trick quite often.

It has been proven that smiling has the ability to boost your immune system, decrease stress levels, and can even make you look younger. The benefits of smiling have even been backed up by science.[1]

Better yet, smiling is contagious. When you engage in a quick smile, you are likely to brighten someone else’s day along with your own. It is no wonder why happy people smile often!

13. Happy People Live Life in the Present Moment.

When we are genuinely happy, we are living for the moment.

Happy people let go of the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future. They take the moments for what they are worth – they only invest their energy in what feels right to them.

Everyone is capable of living a happy-centered life. You deserve a life that you desire – your dream life. All you have to start doing is make happy-based decisions TODAY.

In every moment, decide on what makes you happy – decide on what gets you excited. Stop doing what you don’t love, don’t listen to the people that you dislike.

If you are engaging in something that isn’t bringing you joy, then quit doing it. Listen to your heart, stop ignoring the warning signs (negativity) because they are there for a reason.

I have observed, studied, and interviewed some of the happiest and most successful people along with some of the most miserable and self-loathing.

It starts with one decision – happiness.

The happiest, most successful people choose happiness with EACH and EVERY decision. And you can start doing this today.

Featured photo credit: Autumn Goodman via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Science Behind the Smile

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