How to Find More Meaning In Your Life, According to 5 People Who Did
Living a meaningful life can be different for everyone, but in these five incredible people found that what really matters is the impact we have on others
Mental breakthroughs make all the difference
The mind is a powerful tool—here are 15 ways reframing your thoughts can change your life. That's the primary message of Ramit Sethi, a personal finance expert and author, and the brains behind Iwillteachyoutoberich.com and Growthlab.com. Sethi isn't all that interested in wealth, even though much of his work is ostensibly about increasing one's income. What matters to him, he told Fortune magazine, is behavioral change—helping people past mental blocks in order to live the lives they want. In a recent Instagram post, Sethi posted a comment from a fan thanking him for the inspiration to hire a personal trainer. In the caption, Sethi celebrated his fan's "psychological breakthrough," a phrase that best sums up one of the ways Sethi finds great purpose in his work. In an e-mail, he told RD.com, "I love my job because I get to have an impact on millions of people. I get to use the things I learned in college—technology, psychology—and apply them to help people start a business, find their dream job, and master their finances." In his day-to-day life, he experiences a sense of purpose in relaying his message to his audience that doing work that you love—and continuing to do it no matter how much money you make—is what can lead to meaning. He says, "I used to think that meaning came from one special moment where the trumpets are playing and the light is shining on you. Now I think it's about the person who shows up every day and gives it their best."
Quality conversations are key
Loneliness can creep into your life as you get older, which is why it's nice to find 50 ways to not be lonely. Patrick Arbore, EdD, knows this, and it's why he values meaningful conversation. Director and founder of the Elderly Suicide Prevention & Grief Related Services at the Institute on Aging, Arbore, 69, founded The Friendship Line, a 24-hour hotline whose volunteers reach out to the lonely, depressed, isolated, frail and potentially suicidal older adults. He says, "What brings me joy is when I can be the listener when someone is hungry for connection." Arbore remembers one man in particular with whom he had a powerful bond with. The man was feeling suicidal in his 70s after his wife had passed. The man spoke with Dr. Arbore and volunteers on the Friendship Line at a stage when he wanted to end his life by jumping off a roof. After some time he told Arbore that "I am no longer thinking about suicide because people care about me." Arbore found this exchange profound. "All we did was express caring and that is so significant because it's not hard to do," he says. "Our work is really quite simple. If you look at the common denominator in all the people who are suffering, isolated, and lonely, it's connection and care. It's saying 'I see you. You exist.'" Do you derive meaning through a good chat? To strike up conversations, try these ideas.
Live according to your soul
If finding purpose in your life proves difficult, you might try making a bucket list—it can make your life more meaningful. Through her work as the CEO of Alive Hospice care in Tennessee, Anna-Gene O'Neal, 51, encounters the fragility of life every day. She says, "it's a sacred space to be with people at the end of their lives." Spiritually rich moments are common in her world and sometimes, the personal collides with the professional, such as the time O'Neal's mother-in-law was in hospice care at one of Alive's facilities. As her mother-in-law took her last breath, O'Neal, along with her husband and daughter, all sitting beside her bed, experienced a powerful spiritual reminder. The window was open in the room and as the family matriarch took her last breath, the wind swirled through the room with a powerful gust. The three looked at one another, each noticing the force in the room. Seeing death up close can lead to deep revelations about life, such as these lessons about living from people who spend time with the dying. Reflecting on the day her mother-in-law passed, O'Neal says, "Everything about her body changed at that point. The body becomes a shell. There is a soul." Knowing this, she tries to live life remembering what she calls a 100 percent mortality rate. In her own life, she rarely lets a week go by without having dinner with friends. She cooks countless pans of fresh cinnamon rolls to give away to her local community. She counts to five or 10 before responding to others. She takes more deep breaths. In her work, she says, "We can't change the outcome. We can bring peace and comfort. We can help people define what they want their legacy to be. We can help them with items on their bucket list."
Michael Genovese grew up on a Christmas tree farm. Now he runs Summer Dreams Farm, a dahlia farm in Michigan. On Instagram and Facebook, flower lovers marvel at his images of fields of colorful dahlias that draw butterflies, bumble bees and visitors from all over. His work looks like an idyllic fairytale (and, in many ways, it is), but the truth is, being a flower farmer is hard work. On most days, Genovese is up at 5:30 a.m., and outside working by 7 a.m. (He's on to something, waking up early can change your life.) At that hour, it might be cold outside. The fields might be dirty. He might get stung by bees. When he was just starting out, he remembers going outside at 2 a.m. during his busy season with a headlamp on and coyotes howling in the distance. Yet the satisfaction and significance of the work make it all worthwhile, he says. "I can sit back at the end of the day and look at the field and say, 'Look, I did that.'" Genovese, 30, finds meaning in how his flowers influence people's lives. Once a week he sells dahlias at a local farmers' market. Past customers often approach him to share photos of how his flowers brought joy to their loved ones. They might share a photo of a wedding bouquet they ordered from him or flowers they brought to a nursing home to uplift someone. Genovese says, "Flowers are an emotional product. They are like food for the soul."
Running a flower farm sounds good—read about how another flower farmer finds community and connection to nature.
Care for children
Nature can literally be like medicine for the brain, something Julie DeRossi knows well. DeRossi lives at Starcross Monastic Community in the coastal farm country of Sonoma County. Lately, she's been waking up to watch the sunrise and is surprised at how nature continues to provide meaning. Known as "Sister Julie," this 70-year-old layperson meditates every evening, even as she tends to her olive trees on the property (she sells her own olive oil to support the farm), interacts with guests who visit Starcross, or works in the food pantry. Daily meditation has long been one of the ways she carries out her mission of "living as if it matters." Sister Julie and Starcross have a long legacy of pursuing meaning, often through serving others. In 1988, People magazine wrote about Starcross' work in helping AIDS victims. In the 90s and beyond, Sister Julie advocated for children affected by HIV in Uganda. She continues to stay in touch with the kids she worked with and cherishes her friendships with them. One her most meaningful life experiences was adopting her daughter, Tina who she describes with great joy. Tina's mom was sick with AIDS. Sister Julie was there when Tina was born. The HIV affected her spinal column so her legs and feet didn't work properly, which meant that Sister Julie carried Tina constantly. She said, "She was always on my back or in a child carrier." Tina died just before her third birthday. Sister Julie says, "That was one of the most intense periods of my life and it was so worth it. I wouldn't trade any part of it."