Ask anyone who’s made it to old age and they’ll tell you: living and living with meaning are two different animals. For those approaching 40, a time when people tend to reevaluate their priorities and figure out what a second act may hold, choosing to lead a more motivated and meaningful existence can mean the difference between future happiness and a lifetime of regret.
“Having meaning in your life is the best remedy for chronic stress. Anything we do in life involves stress. When there is meaning in what we do, stress does not damage our health. When we are working towards something we value, the times when we don’t feel happy don’t drag us down,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Inna Khazan, Ph.D.
“Happiness is a transient feeling and we have little control over when we feel or do not feel happy. Therefore, attempts to feel happy often leave us feeling disappointed and unhappy. Having meaning in our lives, on the other hand, is much more under our control. We can focus our efforts on what we can control, living a meaningful life. Research shows that having meaning in your life is associated with greater life satisfaction and overall health and well-being.” So, before you spend another day wondering how you can change your life for the better, take these tips for giving your life new meaning after 40 out for a spin. And for more ways to make every day brighter, discover these 75 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Adopt a pet.
If you want to add meaning to your life, look no further than your nearest shelter. Adopting a pet has a wealth of health benefits, from lowering your cholesterol to improving your gut microbiome, and can even reduce your stress according to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia. Better yet, the act of caregiving (not to mention the levels of unconditional love your pet is sure to shower on you) can make you feel wanted, needed, and create a new sense of purpose in your life. And for more incentive to bring home a furry friend, check out these 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Express your gratitude.
A little gratitude goes a long way, especially when you’re trying to make each day more meaningful. Thanking others for their contributions to your life can make your own life richer while refocusing your attention to be less self-directed. Need more incentive to say a few thank yous? Research published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology even reveals that gratitude can improve a person’s self-esteem.
Reconnect with friends you’ve lost touch with.
No matter how much of a social butterfly you are, most of us tend to see our friend groups thin out slightly as we age. In fact, more than half of the adults polled in one Gallup survey admitted to having fewer than five close friends. However, if you’re seeking greater meaning in your life, it’s high time you reconnected with some of the people who were once important to you but have fallen by the wayside in recent years. Re-making those connections can give you a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that your life was previously lacking. And for more ways to improve your outlook, discover The 25 Best Instant Mood Boosters.
Reassess your work-life balance.
Do you live to work, or work to live? If the answer is the former, you’re likely missing out on a host of potentially-significant moments that could make your life richer. While quitting your job may not be an option, reassessing how much time you spend at work versus how much time you have for yourself, your loved ones, and your hobbies can make your life feel instantly more satisfying and purposeful.
Travel somewhere new.
Travel does more than just give us great memories to look back upon: it can also give our lives significant meaning. Experiencing other cultures can make you more empathetic, broaden your horizons, and according to one study, can even spark your creativity. However, you can reap these benefits even if you don’t have a huge budget to blow: just traveling to a new town can help foster greater appreciation for the world around you and make you more content at the same time.
Do a good deed every day.
There are many people who subscribe to the belief that a life cannot have meaning if you’re not working to make the world a better place. If you’re eager to make your life more meaningful and fulfilling, try doing one good deed per day. It doesn’t have to be much—help someone across the street, say something kind to someone, give a dog tied up outside some water—but it can give you a sense that you’re contributing to the greater good on a regular basis.
Stop letting your job define you.
So many of us have two moves when we’re introducing ourselves: we ask the other person’s name, then we immediately ask about their job. If you want to carve out more meaning in your life, it’s time to stop letting your job define you. Your job is a single part of your life, but it shouldn’t be the most important part. Figuring out who you are outside of work is far more crucial to your continued growth in the long run. And when you’re ready to take your career to the next level, start with The 25 Best Ways to Score a Promotion.
Meditation doesn’t just clear your mind, it can help you achieve greater focus and understanding about what your purpose in this world is. There’s ample research to suggest that meditation can make people happier, and the increased mindfulness meditation confers can help you identify what you truly want from life.
Stop comparing yourself with others.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t just make you feel bad, it can also obscure your real goals. If you’re seeking greater meaning, make a conscious effort to turn off the self-judgment and, rather than focusing on how you stack up in comparison to others, focus simply on how you feel, what makes you happy, and how you can keep improving.
Mentor a child.
Mentorship is an amazing experience—and a highly meaningful one too. Research suggests that at-risk children with mentors fare better academically, socially, behaviorally, and health-wise than those without mentors, and there are major benefits for the mentors, too. Knowing you’re making a difference in another person’s life can give your life added meaning.
Trying to make ethical choices on a daily basis can create a greater sense of meaning and purpose in your life in no time. Whether you believe that ethical living means forgoing meat, limiting environmental waste, or giving back to your community, adhering to a set of values you’ve devised for yourself can make you feel more centered and more fulfilled. And for some tips on adopting a greener lifestyle, bone up on the 30 Easy Ways to Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly.
Set professional goals.
You may have to work to pay bills, but as you do, it’s important to remind yourself what you’re trying to achieve in the process. Setting professional goals you hope to achieve can give you a renewed sense of purpose when you’re slogging through that 9-to-5 grind.
Make exercise a daily priority.
While we may focus too much on how our bodies look on the outside, focusing on your health and well-being instead can give your life new meaning. Exercising on a daily basis, whether that means hitting the gym or going for a walk, can completely change your perspective about your life, as well as helping you live a longer, healthier one.
Talk to a professional.
Sometimes, figuring out how to create meaning in your life requires more than just some deep thought. Talking to a therapist or life coach can help you figure out how to carve out more time for meaningful experiences and figure out how to identify what makes you feel fulfilled.
Learn a new language.
Traveling abroad isn’t the only way to embrace other cultures. Learning a new language can not only give your life renewed purpose, research also suggests that polyglots have slower rates of brain aging.
Spend money on experiences, not things.
If you want your money to bring you greater fulfillment, stop throwing it at big ticket items. Instead, spend your cash on experiences. According to researchers at San Francisco State University, money spent on experiences yields greater happiness than that spent on material goods, and all those experiences can definitely make your life more meaningful over time.
Say “no” more often.
Leading a meaningful life doesn’t mean saying yes to every experience that comes your way. In fact, learning your own limitations and sticking to your guns can boost your self-esteem and make you feel more focused and in control over time. Not taking on that extra work over the weekend—or choosing to turn down social functions that might cause you undue stress—can lighten your mental load and give you more time to spend on those activities that are actually important to you.
Being right is fun. Being kind is fulfilling. If you want to feel truly satisfied by your life on a regular basis, ditch the mentality that every conversation is an argument to be won. Instead, try to make kindness the focus of your behavior and you’re sure to feel more satisfied with your life.
Spend time with people who are passionate.
Even if you haven’t quite figured out your own passion yet, spending time with passionate people can make you feel like you’re on the path to finding true purpose. Spending time with people who are excited and fulfilled by their own lives can easily transfer some of that energy over to you.
Giving back to those in need can give you find new meaning in your life after just a short period of time. In fact, research suggests a strong correlation between volunteering and life satisfaction, so there’s no time like the present to give your time to a worthy cause.
Get in touch with your spiritual side.
Even if you’re not religious, getting in touch with your spirituality can make your life feel more meaningful. Even if you’re not likely to become a person who attends services, thinking about spirituality in a more philosophical manner—considering why we’re here, or learning about other religions, for example—can make you feel more satisfied with the direction your life has taken, as well as what’s to come.
Revisit your childhood passions.
Want to make your life more satisfying and meaningful? Try revisiting some of those interests you had as a child. Taking time to explore those former passions can fill you with a sense of nostalgia and help you better understand the way you are today.
Trace your family history.
Many people know little more about the generations that went before them than the stories their parents have kept alive. However, learning your family’s history, like through services like 23andMe can make you better appreciate your ancestors while giving you a renewed sense of purpose.
Face a lifelong fear.
If you’ve always been afraid of something, there’s no time like the present to tackle that fear head-on. Confronting our fears as adults can give our lives a sense of meaning they previously lacked, as well as helping us battle those phobias that have been plaguing us.
Read the classics.
Want to boost your intelligence and make your life more meaningful in one fell swoop? Start by brushing up on those classics you missed out on when you were younger. In addition to the escapism great books provide, research published in Cognitive Development revealed that reading not only makes people smarter, but more empathetic, as well. Don’t know where to start? Grab one of the 40 Books Everyone Over 40 Should Have on His Bookshelf.
To make your life more meaningful, you’ve got to start by taking care of yourself first. While our busy schedules often mean that we neglect our own needs, taking care of your mental and physical well-being makes you better-equipped to seek meaning in your life. To master the art of self-care, start by practicing the 50 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself.
Nurture your creativity.
Tapping into your creative spirit can be a major boon to your overall satisfaction. Allowing yourself a creative outlet not only gives you opportunities to pursue your non-work-related passions, it also can help you live a longer healthier life. In fact, research suggests that participating in leisure activities, including art, can help reduce a person’s dementia risk. And for some inspiration, check out the 40 Best Hobbies to Take Up in Your 40s.
Stop stressing about money.
Do the bills still have to get paid while you’re seeking meaning in your life? Of course. That said, for those living comfortably, reframing the purpose of money in your life can help you live more meaningfully. Rather than viewing money as a goal, try to view it as a tool that can get you where you want to go.
Make lasting commitments.
Even if you’ve been a commitment-phobe in the past, committing to something in the long term can help you feel like each day is a more meaningful one. Sign up for a year of volunteering, commit to a yearlong health makeover, or simply make plans to take a trip one year from today—those commitments will all make you live more intentionally in the process.
Shrug off other people’s opinions.
It’s easy to lose sight of what we value when other people’s opinions are clouding our self-perception. To commit to a more meaningful life, do your best not to let other people’s opinions get to you, but rather strive to be better for your own sake.
Get rid of toxic relationships.
Bad relationships are the mortal enemy of a meaningful life. Toxic friends, spouses, and coworkers take up so much mental energy that it often feels impossible to be mindful when in their presence. Whenever possible, cut the people dragging you down out of your life and spend your time with those who inspire and energize you instead.
Simplify your life.
Want a cheat sheet for living more meaningfully? Start by paring down your life. Simplifying, whether that means clearing an over-booked schedule or ditching clothes you haven’t worn in a decade, gives you the mental space to reprioritize.
Similarly, if you’re feeling like your attachment to your electronics is making you less mindful, take some time to unplug. Research published in the Depression and Anxiety reveals that social media use is linked to increased rates of depression, and those digital distractions are certainly impeding our focus on the task at hand, allowing meaningful experiences slip away every time we use them. And if your devices are starting to weigh you down, discover The 30 Best Reasons to Take a Digital Detox.
Start ticking off bucket-list items.
While, at 40(ish), you still have plenty of time left to do the things you’ve always wanted to accomplish, if you want to live more meaningfully, try acting like you’re short on time. Crossing off those bucket list items will give you a renewed sense of purpose in no time.
Trust your gut.
We trust our brains, but when it comes to really appreciating your life and making it more fulfilling, it’s time to start trusting your gut. Listen to that voice inside you that tells you what the right decision is—you may have learned to ignore it, but it will rarely lead you astray.
Stop hating your body.
Life is too short to hate your body. To imbue your life with meaning, take the focus off those perceived physical flaws and start appreciating the amazing things your body does every day.
Make a list of priorities.
Finding meaning in your life often means searching for it. The best way to get started? Make a list of your priorities. By taking inventory of what makes your life worthwhile, you can make a vested effort to prioritize those things over the distractions that so often get in the way.
“To increase meaning in your life, spend a little time thinking about what you value—is it contributing to society? is it spending time with your family? Is it helping other people? There are lots of possibilities. Reflect on your values, and then prioritize activities that are in line with those values. When acting in accordance with those values is challenging, don’t shy away from the challenge,” suggests Dr. Khazan.
Make happiness a goal.
Happiness shouldn’t be an afterthought in your life. If you want to be able to find meaning in your life, you have to first find what makes you happy and take strides to make it a priority.
Apologize. Apologize. Apologize.
It’s pretty hard to find meaning in our lives if we’re still hung up on all the things we’ve done wrong—or have a long list of people who’ve been wounded by our actions. The first step toward greater fulfillment? Apologize to those you’ve hurt.
Tell people you love them.
Relationships are among the greatest sources of joy for many of us, giving our life a huge amount of meaning. However, if you want the full benefit of those connections, it’s important to tell people how you feel about them. Just giving and receiving a simple “I love you” to a friend or family member can give you a satisfaction no material possession can match.
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