Focus on the things that give your life meaning

Are you focusing on the things that make your life worth living? What does it mean to have a meaningful life, and how can we create one? Tom Rath – author of 'Are You Fully Charged?' – rounds up the top ways to inject your life with more depth


Focus on the things that give your life meaning

1. Create substance with small wins

To discover what leads to better work and lives, Harvard Business School studied the diary entries of over 200 people. They concluded: ‘The single most important event that engages us is simply making progress in meaningful work.’ The research showed that creating meaning is an evolutionary process that grows by the day, as opposed to a grand purpose that suddenly falls in your lap.

Small wins generate meaningful progress. You might create a small positive change for one of your customers today or work on a new product that will benefit people in the future. Maybe you’ll have a long conversation with a loved one that makes a difference. It’s these little moments, not grand actions, which create substance and meaning.

2. Forge meaning in the moment

Meaning does not happen to you – you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions.

Start by asking why your current job or role even exists. Almost anyone who works in customer service, for example, has an opportunity to improve a problem. When you think about it, it’s not that difficult to find meaningful aspects of any job. Once you have identified how your efforts create a better life for others, consider what you could do to improve. This is the type of daily impact you can have in interactions with friends, family, colleagues and customers.

Attach meaning to small interchanges. Over time, you’ll be able to see the link between your efforts and a larger purpose.

3. Make memories

Think back on some of the most memorable holidays, trips and experiences you’ve had. As you reflect back on these moments, you may notice the joy you derive from recalling the time spent with people you care about. The best experiences create memories and wellbeing that lasts.

Compare all this goodwill with the cheap thrill of buying new clothes, or even a new car. There is no better use of financial resources than to spend it on meaningful experiences with other people. This may be the most important discovery about how to use money effectively.  

4  Avoid flying solo

The best moments in life rarely happen while you are sitting around alone; the times that make life worthwhile occur in the company of your closest relationships. However, there is too much time and effort focused on individual achievement. From schooling, to work, to personal goals, people spend a disproportionate amount of time working on solitary pursuits.

5. Want what you already have

When you value what you already have, not only will you grow, you won’t feel the angst of wanting more. Any time you create experiences in the context of your existing resources and relationships, it has a beneficial effect on your general wellbeing.

Adapted from Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys To Energizing Your Work And Life by Tom Rath (Missionday, £15.99)

Photograph: Corbis