We all want to make some sort of difference in the world. This desire seems built into the human spirit.
In his landmark book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asks readers to think through a powerful exercise: visualize your own funeral. Knowing you still have many years left to live and invest into the lives of others, consider for a few moments what you would want your closest loved ones to say about you at the funeral service. What do you want people to remember about you? Think about your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. What would you want them to say about the life that you lived?
What Makes Life Meaningful?
Living a meaningful life doesn’t mean living by one certain formula. A meaningful life can take many forms and vary from person to person. Think about the most influential people in your own life. While each person has probably impacted your life in a variety of ways, there are likely certain principles that each one lived by that led them to influence your life for the better. Take a look at the 6 principles below to help you as you consider what you can do to live your best life from this day forward.
1. Value people and relationships more than things
A hospice nurse’s interviews with palliative care patients have recently revealed the top five things people regret at the end of life. Among the top 5 regrets, #2 was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” the biggest regret that the men in the group expressed. The reason? They missed their children’s youth and the companionship of their spouse. Many of us spend a great deal of time pursuing things other than relationships: a successful career at work, a perfect image in the mirror, or even fame and fortune, but deep down, we know that those things are not what make life meaningful or worth living. All we have to do is look at the lives of celebrities to know that fame and fortune can’t bring true happiness or fulfillment. The drive to succeed can distract us for a time, but “success” cannot really fulfill our deepest need: the desire for meaning, significance, and connection. After all, life is not about what we accumulate; it’s about the relationships we’ve built and the people we love. To live meaningfully, make people and relationships your top priority, before work, before wealth, and before achieving success (however you define it), and you won’t live to regret a single day of your life.
2. Find where you belong
We all want to feel wanted and to belong somewhere. We are born into a place to belong – a family, a tribe. But sometimes, as much as we might like it to be the case, our families don’t or can’t meet our need to belong. And so, we feel out of place. If this is you, don’t lose hope. You can still find people who value you and whom you can value in return. For some, it will be a close-knit family. For others, it will be friends, members of a community, or a faith group. With most, it will be a mixture of both groups. But no matter who your tribe is, find them, love them, spend time with them, and do life with them.
3. Discover your passions and pursue them
The third principle is to find out what you’re passionate about and pursue it. Your unique gifts are part of the answer to the world’s problems. Think about it this way: if you don’t pursue your passion, the world will miss out on something amazing. Basically, you have two choices: you can live your life on purpose, or you can let life happen to you. If you choose to live with purpose, you ensure that the things you value most actually happen. You prioritize your passions and pursue your dreams. And dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you want to be a teacher, raise happy, healthy children, cook delectable meals for family and friends, start a blog, or write a book. No dream is too small – go for it! And the world will be a better place because of it.
4. Find a way to give of yourself
Our natural tendency is to focus inward, to look at our own issues and problems. But to live meaningfully, we need to step outside of ourselves and focus on others. Volunteering is an excellent way to give of yourself. Plus, there are so many different ways to volunteer – you can find one just right for you. By giving of your time and efforts, you make an impact on those around you, strengthen your connections and your community, learn new skills and teach your own skills to others, and you also improve your health. Volunteering is proven to reduce stress and increase overall well-being. It’s that powerful.
5. Live courageously
Living courageously means that you are living with purpose and intentionality while being true to yourself. You have to be willing to take some risks, even if you think you might fail or face rejection. Thomas Edison, when asked about his failure to make a working light bulb, said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In other words, if we learn from what we would call our failings, they aren’t failings. They are opportunities for growth and will help us get closer to living the life we want.
Taking risks doesn’t mean you have to go skydiving or hike Mt. Everest, but it does mean that you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone at times. In the interviews with palliative care patients that revealed the the top five things people regret at the end of life, two of the top five regrets were: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” and “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Sometimes, it’s easier to “go with the flow” and ignore our own needs, feelings, and desires in favor of doing what others expect us to do. But to live a meaningful life with no regrets, we have to be willing to share our true selves with others. Stepping outside of that comfort zone can be scary. But the rewards of living a meaningful life are definitely worth it. The reality is that when we have the courage to live authentically, we inspire others to do the same.
6. Live with kindness and compassion
Finally, to live a meaningful life, we must practice kindness and compassion. In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly rare to find people who sincerely care about the lives and circumstances of others. To live meaningful lives, we need to be those people, intentionally looking for ways to help others. Even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion can have an impact. Also, according to recent research, compassion helps us connect with others in a meaningful way, which in turn, improves our mental and physical health, speeds up recovery time from illness, and may even lengthen our lifespans. Kindness is good for us and good for others, too.
So, now that you’ve learned about some principles to living a meaningful life, what do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Take a few moments to really think about what changes you can make today to live a more meaningful life. Take it one day at a time. Finding meaning and living intentionally won’t happen in a day. A meaningful life is made up of thousands of small, deliberate choices that, in the end, tell a beautiful tale of a life well-lived.