If there’s one search common across all cultures, it’s the search for a meaningful life — to be able to feel like who you are and what you do matters.
The tough part is everyone has an opinion, and with so many options, clarity can be confusing.
But, there are common threads that run between what philosophers, psychologists and spiritual teachers have taught throughout history.
Here are eight ingredients that make for a truly meaningful life:
1. Your talent in action
Everyone is talented at something. If you don’t believe that, you simply haven’t found it. Einstein said,
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
We often trade in our uniqueness for the comforts of conformity, but we should never let the desire to be part of a group drown out our individuality. Spend some time thinking through what sets you apart and begin to leverage that.
2. Stay true to your convictions
A person without convictions is like a ship without a rudder. Every decision we make can be traced back to our beliefs and worldviews. And, a meaningful life consists of acting in accordance with our inner convictions.
Think about what you value in life and embrace it unapologetically.
Those who sit on the fence never get anywhere. Having the freedom to express what you believe is an under-appreciated liberty and an under-exercised ability.
3. Make a difference, not just a dollar
Work makes up such a large portion of our lives, and, sadly, Gallup studies show an alarming number of unsatisfied employees worldwide.
A major reason for this is that many feel their work is unimportant. They feel no sense of contribution or reward beyond their paychecks.
If that resonates with you, it may be time to transition into another career — choosing dollars over meaning is an exchange that will only continue to rob.
In the meantime, if your work doesn’t give you a sense of value, you can still use your finances to sponsor a child or give to a charity.
4. A creative outlet
Whether professionally or as a hobby, being able to creatively express yourself is essential for a meaningful life. Being creative in music, writing, photography or dance is a powerful outlet that offers cognitive and emotional benefits.
Creativity and art are unique to humans. Individually, they allow us to become more attuned to ourselves; collectively, they're empathetic celebrations of humanity.
To be creative is to contribute -- whether to others or to yourself, that’s a meaningful act.
5. A Supportive Community
We’re relational beings who flourish when we’re in supportive communities. When there are shared values, personal meaning becomes magnified. Studies have shown that our happiness is connected to the depth of our relationships.
Meaningful lives are filled with people who support you on your journey.
If you can’t embrace the person in the mirror, it will be difficult to live a happy and meaningful life. Indeed, we all struggle with self-acceptance; it’s often a downhill stroll to negativity and an uphill battle toward positivity.
While our minds tend to focus on the character traits we lack or parts of our bodies we dislike, it only takes a bit of mindfulness to switch and remember what we can be thankful for.
Give yourself a head start and begin with acknowledging the blessings you already have.
Being in a positive state releases the positive brain chemical, dopamine, which makes us happier and more productive. This is a crucial element for creating and living a meaningful life.
The sooner you are able to embrace the tools you’ve been given in this life, the sooner you’ll be able to put those tools to work.
7. Become process-oriented
Meaning and fulfillment are often correlated to achievement and accomplishment. While a great sense of value comes with meeting goals, we sell ourselves short when we place all value solely on the "other side."
Becoming process oriented means celebrating the journey, not just the destination, and stretching out beyond the finish line. It allows us to enjoy the learning process, not just mastery of a skill.
8. A personal philosophy on life and death
Mark Twain said,
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.
One of our most powerful biological drives is our survival mechanism. It steers us toward things that enhance life and away from what may cause death. Our existential drive for meaning is also very dependent upon these.
Whatever philosophy to which you subscribe, it’s essential to develop some beliefs on these important elements in life — why you believe we are here and what happens to us after death.
Death is an inevitable part of life that causes fear for many. But, fear loses its power when we confront it. Find a place for death in your life to motivate and add meaning.