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How to Live a More Meaningful Life

Above all else, experiencing a meaningful life means living in the moment, while connecting the past, the present, and the future. Doing so gives us a clearer idea of where we need to go in light of where we have been.
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2015-08-31-1441024234-550100-meaningfullife.jpgSatisfaction and Meaning

Living a life that has some kind of meaning is one of the most widely held goals in existence -- something by which we motivate and measure ourselves.

Just how to do this is a conundrum that has challenged philosophers, scientists, and so many people throughout the ages.

But perhaps the solution may not be as complex as it seems.

While there is no single answer, research has shown that there are several factors that influence our ability to find satisfaction and meaning in life.

Here then are a few pointers:

Develop a Sense of Purpose

If there is one factor that influences our ability to live a meaningful life it's having a sense of purpose -- a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to keep on going.

Not only does a sense of purpose fuel a sense of meaning in life, but it also brings with it more time in which to enjoy that meaning.

Research conducted at the University of Rochester has shown that having a sense of purpose in life not only increases the quality of our lives, but may also help us to live longer -- regardless of our age. [1]

What's more, the longevity benefits remained, even after other factors, such as relationships and positive emotions were factored in.

The take-away message is clear: having a sense of purpose is an important component in a long and meaningfully lived life.

Prioritize Connection With Others

Joint research conducted by psychologists from Stanford University, Florida State University, and the University of Minnesota shows that connection to others is necessary in order to bring meaning to our life. [2]

Being close to others, family or friends, results in a greater feeling of purpose, enhancing life's meaning.

This doesn't mean that we have to live in an ideal, perfectly harmonious family or social environment. The researchers clarify that connection to others should not be mistaken for "perfect" relationships. Quite the contrary, the process of conflict with relevant others, and the time invested in overcoming challenges and disagreements, can serve to deepen those relationships, so increasing life's meaning.

Simply having those connections -- even though stress may accompany them -- is enough to give our lives a deeper sense of meaning.

Do For Others

It's no great secret that giving to others improves our own feelings of purpose and meaning. Giving can take many forms, of course: donating our time, or our talents -- or simply lending a friendly ear.

Helping others seems to be strongly correlated with increased life satisfaction. Lending a helping hand can provide a sense of purpose for us, young and old.

One fascinating aspect of working for the benefit of others is that helping others improves both physical and mental health. In fact, studies show that involvement in community service activities is linked to living longer. [3]

But volunteering once every now and then appears to be of little real use. If it is to have any meaningful impact, there is a threshold a person must meet when it comes to being of service to others.

Giving our time in order to help others on a more regular basis, will bring the greatest rewards in terms of enhancing life's meaning, while maximizing our positive impact on the people with whom we come into contact.

In short, helping and doing good for others is an important component of any meaningfully lived life -- it pays real dividends.

Express Yourself

Living a meaningful life is closely related to authenticity, to being who we truly are.

Many people struggle to be themselves for fear of criticism or rejection; as a result, they find themselves living a life that is far from satisfying or meaningful. When we are not allowed -- for whatever reason -- to be who we truly are, we greatly diminish the meaning we can derive from the life we live.

An excellent example of this is the recent transition, or gender affirmation, of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner. Ms. Jenner lived her life for 65 years as someone whom she felt was not aligned with her true nature. Now that her gender affirmation is complete, she is at last able to express her authentic self, and in so doing, she is more able to live a life of greater meaning.

Here, then, is another important factor in our ability to live a meaningful life: We must be willing to live in an authentic way, one that allows us to express who we truly are -- even if this takes courage.

Courage is Key

The simple fact is that sometimes it takes courage to live. And it can take even more courage to live a meaningful life. It can be all too easy to fall into the rut of habit, seldom reaching out, trying fresh, new things.

People who lead meaningful lives put themselves out there, they try new things, challenge the way they think, and doggedly seek out that which they want from life.

A good way to look at courage is to view it as a kind of tenacious willingness. An attitude of being willing to try something a little different -- perhaps even something scary -- in order to develop and maximize the meaning we derive from life.

Courage means being willing to make connections with others. Being willing to help our fellow travelers on life's road. Being willing to care. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it: "From caring comes courage."

When we have this kind of willingness then a deeper, more meaningful life will surely follow.

Meaning and Happiness Aren't Always Interlinked

While we can be happy and find meaning in life, the two don't always go hand in hand. [4] Living meaningfully means that we need to accept the fact that there will be bumps, bruises, and perhaps even unhappiness along the way.

Above all else, experiencing a meaningful life means living in the moment, while connecting the past, the present, and the future. Doing so gives us a clearer idea of where we need to go in light of where we have been.

Life itself is a process, and viewing things in their proper context -- particularly our struggles and our sadnesses -- is associated with greater meaning and a sense of purpose. [5]

Perhaps psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl said it best:

"If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering."

A Final Word

Finding meaning in life is an ongoing journey, a process that takes time, patience, and resilience. It is not something that occurs magically and without effort. It is not necessarily something that happens at a given point in our lives and is then "done and dusted."

Neither does our sense of meaning need to remain fixed: What we find meaningful today may be replaced by a different meaning tomorrow. As life itself changes, so may the meaning we give to it.

While there is no secret formula that will help every single person find meaning, taking the steps outlined above will at least set us on the right path; one that can fulfill our goals, develop a deeper sense of understanding, and live the meaningful, more satisfying life we were meant to live.

"Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it." -- Joseph Campbell

Peter Field is a U.K. registered psychotherapist and board certified hypnotherapist. His hypnotherapy Birmingham and London clinics provide hypno-psychotherapy services for a wide range of issues. His extensive range of self-hypnosis downloads are also available.

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