We only live once. That’s why we have to make the most of this life, make each day meaningful.
The question is how to do it?
20 experts share 26 tips on how to live a meaningful life.
See them below.
Jennifer Wisdom, PhD MPH
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Lead With Wisdom
I believe two components are essential in living a meaningful life: knowing what you want, and achieving what you want.
These can be on a very large scale – like contributing to world peace, or on a smaller scale, like providing for our children.
Knowing what you want is sometimes more difficult than it seems.
We know we want a partner or a raise, but I always encourage people to dig deeper. I propose you think about what you want to BE, what you want to FEEL, what you want to LEARN, and what you want to DO.
Many times we focus on the DO because many of us are achievement oriented. Once you put together what you want to BE and FEEL and LEARN– those become your intentions – you can figure out what you want to DO – those become your goals.
For people who aren’t sure what they want, they can set goals of exploration: exploring different ways of feeling, different geographical places, different experiences to help them learn what they want and don’t want.
And of course, it’s critical to figure out what you want for yourself and for others.
Achieving what you want is simply following up on what you want.
Many times we set up all kinds of barriers to tell ourselves we can’t have something. For example, I have a friend who has always wanted to visit Niagara Falls – and he lives in the Northeast United States!
All it took was setting a date for travel and finding a place to stay. He has now completed that goal and is on his way to setting bigger and even more meaningful goals.
When we’ve calibrated what we want to BE and FEEL and LEARN, we can ensure those intentions include what is important to us, such as love, compassion, or peace. As we continue to strive to BE and FEEL and LEARN what is important to us, we will find we have achieved a meaningful life.
Therapist | Author | Speaker
Millions have gotten lost on their journey blindly imitating confusing values and demonizing sermons of sin infusing fear and trepidation that poison the core components of self-worth.
The world at large has hypnotized us as we buy into society’s pressures vicariously following trends and digesting lavish shallow ideals with guarantees to dazzle and delight.
In time, childlike excitement for each new day fades and inner peace cannot be found.
It is not surprising that the rates of addiction and suicide continue to rise. Each morning, in a self-induced state of mental numbness, habitual routines are repeated monotonously over and over until we accept that this must be all there is to life.
Before we know it, the body wills itself to die, joining the exhausted mind’s desire to give up, and the soul returns to rest.
What is the meaning of life? How is it to be lived?
Related: What Is the Point of Life
The answers are right in front of our nose. You don’t need to take a class, move across country, and leave anyone in your life to find meaning.
It takes only three small adjustments in life to transform yourself into the person you were intended to be where peace and bliss override all other concerns and sorrows:
#1 Know What’s Important
The purpose of life for each of us is universal differentiated only by our spiritual thumbprints of exactly how it will evolve.
As they say, ‘the names may change but the game of life is still the same.’
Each of us is here to learn how to love. As we gain wisdom in love, our purpose becomes crystal clear. We are then meant to share that love with those who are brought into our space even in the most exasperating of relationships.
Nothing else is important. Nothing else matters.
The first step to achieving this noble walk is by honoring genuine love for oneself even if your childhood was more like a nightmare then a trip to Disney.
Part of learning to love oneself and others often includes emotionally traveling back and healing scars have at one time kept you in a negative space.
Then, it is your responsibility to extend your love and growth living each day with humble gratitude. Your example will allow others the freedom to find themselves, love themselves, and shine their light for others as well. That is the purpose of life.
#2 Become Aware of Source Within
The world is running amuck trying to figure out who they are, how they should act, and what to believe in. But everything needed to find the meaning of life is within.
Each person is a unique, magnificent being consisting of body, mind, and soul working for our benefit around the clock.
The key to knowing arrives when you gently allow yourself to receive messages from this union. The three in one, which is you, is always striving for your highest good in honor of your creation.
As you align with these messages of the divine, you will have a clearer understanding of the lessons you are here to learn, the people that surround you, and the spirit’s wisdom to enlighten you.
The conscious awareness of the body, mind, and soul weave a blueprint coaching you through each step of your life and the predetermined lessons intended to challenge you.
Openness and flexibility without rigidity or judgment free your body to soar, your heart to open, and your mind to create. When in touch with the source, through your temple, life is wonderful and takes on new meaning.
#3 Become a Nonjudgmental Watcher
As the world comes to your door there will be countless opportunities for you to make decisions about people, places, and things.
Staying in present awareness of events with the eyes of a watcher, not a participant, manifest an energy that encourages and support the lesson of love to others.
As your perception is transformed, judgment will fall away, an aura of calm and peace will melt away all negative feelings that at one time would have driven you over the edge reaching for yet another glass of wine.
The beauty of living a life with non-judgment is that you become a gift radiating positive vibes to all you meet.
Something magical happens as they themselves open up feeling safe in your presence. You are like a warm blanket easing their self-doubts with acceptance for their past, present, and future.
You are a blessing to the world and it a fabulous feeling. You are love in action and your purpose in transformative.
Warning: You may get wrinkles around your mouth as smiling becomes your regular expression.
Senior Research Scientist, Lumosity
While each person’s definition of a meaningful life may be different, happiness is often part of the equation.
One way to feel happier is to practice present-moment awareness, a core principle of mindfulness practice.
A recent study showed that a wandering mind tends to be an unhappy mind and that the greatest feelings of happiness come when our minds are focused on what we’re doing in the moment.
Interestingly, though, happiness doesn’t seem to be the whole picture for living a meaningful life.
Research has shown that having a happy life differs from having a meaningful life in several ways (Baumeister, 2012, summary here). For example, living a meaningful life actually depends on having a certain amount of stress and challenges to overcome, whereas a happy life is stress-free.
Regardless of how you define a meaningful life, a key method to help guide you in the right direction is mental engagement.
Our brains have the ability to change over time — a process known as neuroplasticity — and one powerful driver of these changes is exposure to new experiences.
Read related article: The Best Books about The Brain and Mind
So, it’s important to continually challenge your brain in new ways to tap into its potential to change. Challenging yourself with novel experiences and efforts, like learning a new sport, coding your first bot, or engaging with novel cognitive training, also fosters personal growth and self-awareness.
By staying mentally engaged at any age, you can expose yourself to more opportunities and experiences that may lead you closer to what’s meaningful to you.
Ikigai is an ancient philosophy for how to live your “life’s worth”. It comes from Okinawa, Japan.
Ikigai has four simple directions to follow:
- Do what you love.
- Do what you’re good at.
- Do what the world needs.
- Do what you can be rewarded for.
If you want to start living a meaningful life, I suggest you start with half-Ikigai.
What do you love and what are you good at? These two fundamental answers are essential to know if you’re going to live a meaningful life.
If you aren’t doing what you love and what you’re good at then what are you doing? Chances are your job (not your Ikigai) is monopolizing up all your time.
A job is not your Ikigai. A job title is not your Ikigai either. Ikigai is an action. It’s something you bring to your job that benefits you and your employer.
Your Ikigai might be:
- To connect
- To heal
- To lead
- To teach
- To create
- To nourish
- To serve
When you discover or develop your half-Ikigai you will begin to see the gifts you offer to the world around you.
You will see the ways the world needs you and your Ikigai gifts. You will see the ways the world rewards you for your Ikigai too. Ikigai is a boomerang of gifts that start with half-Ikigai.
Donna Cameron, CAE
Author, A Year of Living Kindly
I was introduced to the concept of “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues” in the preface to David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character.
The former, according to Brooks, are those skills and proficiencies you would be likely to list on a résumé—they’re the talents and abilities that help you land a job and be successful in it.
Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the qualities that are likely to be mentioned at your funeral, or, as he described: “the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”
If we want to live a meaningful life, I think each of us needs to actively cultivate both our résumé virtues and our eulogy virtues.
We need to have skills that will enable us to participate in the marketplace, to take care of ourselves and our loved ones—we need to be able to do.
But we also need to consciously be. Being is deciding who and what we are at our core, and when nobody else is looking: are we kind, faithful, honest, dependable?
For each of us, those may be different. I look at them as decisions we make in advance. If I know I value honesty, then I will not yield to temptation to lie about who I am or what I’ve done. If I have embraced integrity as a value, I will not promise to do something and then not follow through.
If you haven’t already determined what your eulogy virtues or values are, think about what you would like people to say about you at your funeral.
If thinking about your own funeral makes you uncomfortable, think about what they might say when you leave the room. “She’s always so kind.” “He has such high integrity.” Even, “She always makes me smile.”
I’ve come to think of the technical and job skills as the tree above the surface of the ground, and the eulogy virtues as the roots that grow deep into the earth and provide both nourishment and strength to the tree above. To live a meaningful life, we need to nurture both.
Founder | CEO, Mavens & Moguls
Spend time with the people and organizations that value your authentic gifts and share your values.
Find those communities where you can contribute and shine. Whether you work or volunteer be part of something bigger than you.
Choose happiness every day and see the joy in small things.
Pick the right partner for the right reasons.
This is not a dress rehearsal so live your life and not someone’s else’s, create your own definition of success.
Self-Improvement Author | TEDx Speaker
Be of Service
How do you feel when you help someone out? It feels good, right? It doesn’t matter if you are helping a friend move or spending an afternoon at the local food bank. It just feels good!
I have always said that the full measure of our personal happiness is dictated by how much we offer of ourselves in helping others.
It’s simple: be of service.
I remember how rewarding it was for me to be part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program while I was in college. They matched me with a really great kid who was in middle school. Once a week we would hang out and shoot baskets or play catch.
We both shared a love of sports. The experience was a lot of fun and it felt really good to help out and be a role model. It was something I always looked forward to doing.
A few years later I took it a step further and mentored a young man who was in juvenile prison. I also met with him once a week to chat, hang out and eat dinner.
It was a very sobering and rewarding experience. Really made me appreciative of my upbringing. He and the rest of his cottage group were all excited that I would come and spend time with them.
They all wanted the same thing that we do: love, validation, and connection.
There are folks everywhere who could use a support system or a mentor.
And the time you invest is really inconsequential. The couple of hours a week that you donate your time will come back to you tenfold—I guarantee.
Whichever way you choose to be of service, it doesn’t matter. Just do it!
Sharing your time can offer you perspective on how blessed you truly are. I know it makes me feel that way.
There simply is no reason not to give. You will feel better, you will be helping others, you will be doing the right thing, you will be strengthening your foundation and you will be making a positive impact in your community and the world.
Stranded Animal Coordinator, SeaWorld San Diego
I grew up with a love for science, discovery, and animals and knew that was the career path I wanted.
After I earned my bachelor’s degree, I packed my car and moved from a small town of 800 to San Diego. I was hired to work in SeaWorld’s accounting department but in 1997 assisted with there habilitation of a gray whale calf.
That history-making experience was the start of my rescue career. Today, I lead SeaWorld San Diego’s rescue efforts as a stranded animal coordinator, directing thousands of dolphin, whale, seal, sea lions and other marine animal rescues.
Rescuing sea animals is more than a job—it’s a calling and a passion, and it’s a big part of where I find meaning in my life.
And it has to be because rescue and rehabilitation is a physical, mental and emotional job. Most of the animals we encounter are too skinny or weak to survive without intervention; the majority would not survive without our intervention.
I am often asked how it feels to see an animal we have taken months to rehabilitate—truly from death’s door—returned to the wild.
This is the goal we have from the beginning of rescuing an animal, so returning them is like a parent dropping their child off at school for the first time.
You have loved and cared for them, giving them the skill set to survive, and now it is up to them.
The best part of my job is being on a team of incredible researchers and scientists, who are together exploring ways to protect entire animal populations and environments.
We have the opportunity to implement long-lasting impact on an entire ecosystem. That’s an inspiring and meaningful mission for my life.
Certified High-Performance Coach
There is an ancient understanding that has been passed down through centuries that addresses this age-old question. The secret understanding is this:
To be more interested and curious about HOW we are at any given moment than anything else.
How are you in this moment? Are you open? Are you closed? Are you in your heart or in your head? Are you looking to yourself or beyond yourself for meaning?
When how we are becomes more important than what we do and other things (like being right, arguing a point, changing someone’s mind, etc.) then we can truly transform our lives and discover more openness in each moment and thus live a more meaningful life.
When we are open and living from the heart, our meaning is clear and expansive; there is no more need to search.
Practicing meditation and gratefulness and embracing successful habits are a necessary foundation to make this mental concept an experiential reality.
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Awakening Self
Meaning, in my experience, comes from connection.
When we feel connected to others and to something greater than ourselves, our life feels more fulfilling and has a purpose. This includes feeling connected to this beautiful planet we live on.
Connection to life in the forests, the oceans, the air we breathe and the very soil under our feet gives us a sense of belonging, and a desire to serve the greater good of our world.
We cultivate this sense of connection by being of service.
This can be as simple as listening to someone sharing their joys or their pain, picking up trash, or expressing appreciation to a bank teller for their warmth.
And certainly, we can extend this connection to assisting in greater ways. But if we focus each day on how we can serve others, the Earth, and a higher principle, like thoughtfulness or open-heartedness, we will not only feel more connected to our world, but the practice itself will be fulfilling and bring purpose to our day-to-day living.
In essence, connection is love.
When we share our love with others and allow ourselves to feel love through this process of connection, life feels meaningful.
Author | Professional Speaker
You can live a meaningful life by finding your passion and sharing it with the world.
If you are enthusiastic about something it will not only rub off on others, but it will bring more meaning to your life knowing that you are fulfilling your dream.
After my daughter finished graduate school, she got a job in a well-known card shop. She worked there for about eight months when they advanced her to assistant manager. Shortly after that, she wanted to take one day off a week to teach kids art, her passion.
They refused her request.
She called me in tears wanting to know what to do. I told her she had to decide for herself but that I have always followed my passion and have always been happy working for myself.
Sometimes it was tough. Sometimes paychecks were nil. But over the years, I learned my craft and people started to pay me well for my skills.
Sarah took my advice and quit the card shop. Within a few months, she had several paying jobs teaching art to a child. And today, she is a full-fledged artist who travels the world inspiring others with her work and leading a joyous meaningful life.
Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L
President and CEO, Rehab U Practice Solutions
The biggest thing you can do to live a meaningful life is to discover your higher purpose.
What gets you up in the morning? What role do you play in the betterment of the world?
There are many ways to go about finding your purpose. It is generally the intersection of your interests, skills, and need in the marketplace.
An interesting way to figure your higher purpose out is to do what I call the 25-person test. Contact 25 people you know, friends, acquaintances, and business connections.
Ask them each to define “what you do” or “what makes you worth doing business with”. Take all the responses and note patterns.
Somewhere in there, you will find a clue that can point you towards a higher purpose that, if followed, will lead you to live a truly meaningful life.
Author | Motivational Speaker
Leading a meaningful life means, leaving behind good seeds for the next generation.
One day when I am no longer on this earth, there’s a good chance no one will remember my name or face, but if I led a life of true meaning, I will have left a legacy of goodness in my wake that will reverberate through generations to come.
We come into this world with nothing and then we leave with nothing, so the good we accumulate shouldn’t define us or give us meaning. It’s how we use our gifts to better society as a whole that will give our lives purpose and in turn bring us true satisfaction.
Life Coach | Author
Meaning is something each of us must find and create for ourselves.
At the intersection between the skills that we have to offer and the things the world needs, we find meaning.
Where is that overlap for you? What do you have to offer? What does the world need?
Find that sweet spot, and pay attention to how it makes you feel. When you find your own unique meaning, it’ll feel different than when you follow the meanings of others.
Dr. De’Andrea Matthews
President, Claire Aldin
Living a meaningful life starts by realizing life is finite and has an end.
If you live life as if you only have 30 days to live, you are much more careful with the things you say and don’t say. You are also more diligent about accomplishing the things you always desired but keep putting off. Stop delaying! Start checking off that bucket list and love with no regrets.
Brenda Della Casa
Author| Writer | Speaker | Founder, BDC Digital Media
I have spent my entire life thinking about this and making decisions that, I felt, would bring me closer to feeling as though I have added value to the world and had a wonderful time.
I always think about what I will look back and wish I said and did at 90. What would my 90-year-old-self advise me to do?
I do my best to take risks (such as moving to a new country, applying for jobs I think I will never get, forcing myself to try something new and scary) and I always tell my loved ones how much they mean to me, compliment people when I notice something lovely about them and I do my best to give back in ways that I can (mainly mentorship).
Life is not easy but it’s a lot easier when you know you have tried your best.
Founder, Moms Make Cents
To me, a meaningful life is a happy life.
One way to be happy is to always seek the good. Sure, bad things happen to everyone, but if you try to put a positive spin on it your life will be much more pleasant.
I’ve also found the easiest way to add meaning and happiness to your life is serving others. Small acts of kindness like a handwritten note can go a long way.
My favorite thing to do is to write anonymous notes to people I know in my community. This only takes me a few minutes and a stamp and I know it brightens their day!
Platform Agnostic Marketing Automation Consultant, Exhale Consulting
I have always tried to have a love affair with my own life. This unique approach to living means that in everything I do I’m engaged.
Whether life brings challenges, trials and the need for being flexible (just like in a love affair), when you view it as something beautiful, sensual and exciting, your entire exchange with the world around you (and life) changes.
For me, one core areas for living a meaningful life (or Life as a Love Affair) is at work. Too often we view our careers as simply a paycheck with the occasional hit of passion for a project.
However since work consumes so much of our time, if you really want to live a meaningful life, then work must be meaningful to you.
Web Designer, SellMax
People have been trying to answer this question since the first dawn. In my comparatively short time on this planet, I have drawn my own conclusion.
More than anything, it is of paramount importance to appreciate the ones we love.
Don’t put off visiting your grandparents or playing with your children. We don’t know how long we’ll have these people in our lives; we must enjoy their company while we can.
In doing so, we demonstrate how much we cherish their existence. And really, that’s all that matters. That we let our loved ones know that they have worth and beauty.
Speaker | Author | Success Coach | Rock on Success
Life is never all good, or all bad. So we need to enjoy our moments at the top of the world and know that setbacks are only temporary, too.
I find that “God Taps” in ways we often least expect: when I had a car accident and crashed my head through a windshield at age 24, it was my calling card to begin life as a virtual professional and start my entrepreneurial journey. That was 30 years ago, and it set me on a path I’d never anticipated, but know now that I was meant to do.
Later, at age 50, I had a horrendous midlife meltdown and lost my high-paying job on a single ugly phone call: no severance, no vacation pay. Just a thank you and goodbye since we’d lost our funding.
So amid hormonal chaos, I had to crawl back up from the bottom of the well once again. This time, however, I had the blessing of a gift from my BFF: a box of 50 rocks, each hand painted gold and depicting 50 things that are special about me. The box read, “50 ROCKS and so do YOU.”
This sparked yet another pivot as I use the rocks to reflect on the meaning of life and why we deserve to actually enjoy the journey.
I created a new brand, Rock On Success, and now commit my life to helping others around the world find ways to live their best life — without selling your soul, or losing your mind. The message started with a simple blog on LinkedIn “50 Rocks: Life lessons for success.” And it has grown into keynote talks, training programs, two published books and more.
The secret is simple: My mess became my MESSAGE.
And now I am blessed to help others uncover their strengths and figure out their gifts to the world. That is the difference between a job or work and a fulfilling avocation, living a life that you love.
I remind other to imagine their legacy, what do you want to leave behind and be remembered for?
My definition of hell is when the person you became meets the person you were always meant to be, are you living your purpose and pursuing your passion?
Life is short and I believe you deserve to get paid well doing what you really love, and what you’re naturally best at. After all, we spend most of our lives at work so why not make it meaningful and enjoy the journey (vs a daily grind)?