The 1 Question That Helps Me Have More Meaningful Days
April 4, 2019
Alright, OK, I gotta stop by Target because I’m out of dish soap…I have to text Erin back about dinner next Thursday…there are deadlines all over the place…and whoops, now I’m late for work!
If your morning feels something like this—a hodgepodge of to-dos and little events and nagging concerns—then you’re not alone.
Life can get very, very full very, very quickly. And through all this ping-ponging between activities and priorities, it’s often easy to forget to stop and ask yourself: why?
Why am I rushing around? Why am I prioritizing work or this person or that task? You can get so swept up simply doing that you lose all perspective.
Research shows that finding and specifying your “why” can give your day-to-day so much more meaning. Pninit Russo-Netzer, Ph.D., recently conducted a survey of people who prioritized meaning in their lives. What that looks like: “People who prioritize meaning would agree with statements like, ‘The manner in which I organize my day reflects values that are meaningful to me’ or ‘I choose to include in my life activities that are meaningful to me, even if they often require effort,’ Russo-Netzer writes.
What she found: The people who prioritized meaning in their lives saw major benefits. As she writes, “People who prioritize meaning through their actions do tend to have a greater sense of meaning in life, and in turn they experience less negative emotion and more positive emotion, gratitude, coherence (a sense of optimism and control), happiness, and life satisfaction.”
Gratitude? Optimism? Life satisfaction? That’s what I’m looking for—and you probably are, too.
But finding meaning in your daily life doesn’t have to involve radical changes or quitting your job or moving to a new city. Instead, you can focus on tiny acts of meaning—think of them like acts of service, except they’re privately for yourself.
Here are some starters to find more meaning right here, right now.
Set a Daily 'Meaningful' Intention
The best way to infuse meaning into your life is at the start of every day, so you can ride the residual wave of good feelings all the way through ’til sunset.
Your new challenge: Start each day by asking yourself, “What can I do that will feel meaningful today?”
You can literally write your answer at the top of your to-do list (I just did…) or ask yourself after your morning meditation or while you’re sipping your first cup of coffee. Doing so will set an intention and a guidepost for your day before you get caught up in the hustle.
See the Impact in Your To-Do List
There's a lot of necessary tasks in our day that can feel truly meaningless, but we can challenge ourselves to think about how those tasks might impact someone else.
Consider what you’re doing today, from your work tasks to your personal ones, and how each one might positively affect someone else. Are you visiting a family member? Helping a friend through a work crisis? Are you talking a colleague through a tough time? Buying groceries at the neighborhood shop?
These might seem like normal events to you, but take a moment to consider what each act might mean to another person. Even buying groceries has an impact—you're supporting local business owners.
When you’re actually doing these tasks during the day, try to remember the meaning that’s behind it. It’s not just grocery shopping; it's a meaningful moment.
Plan Moments of Meaning
"When we plan our days, we can choose to schedule activities that are in congruence with the things that matter to us, that hold import and value for us,” Russo-Netzer writes.
Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out the difference between what holds value for you and what you simply (have) to keep doing because you’ve always done it.
Think about the last time you felt really good—that glowing, walking-on-air feeling. It was probably tied to some sense of accomplishment. You did something that meant something.
That’s a clue to follow.
Maybe it was after you completed an important step of a project, or you took 15 minutes to write in your journal or work on your novel. This is a sense of meaning that you can repeat by making these activities part of your daily practice.
Finding Meaning Through Other People
Take, for example, the other day: I acted as a sounding board for a friend on the fence about applying for a new job. Mainly I just listened, but when we hung up and I knew she had a game plan I thought, “I’m happy for her (and) this was a good use of my time!” That’s because I felt like my opinions were valuable and that I was also practicing being a good friend.
Developing friendships and relationships can often give us that meaning that we’re looking for—and they don’t need to involve a crisis of epic proportions. A quick “have a great day!!” text to a sibling in the morning can do wonders for both of you.
Don’t Judge Yourself For What Gives You Meaning
Maybe being competitive and, say, scoring a new personal record on the treadmill is what gives you meaning and a sense of purpose. Or, maybe you derive meaning from a long, meandering morning walk and being lost in your own thoughts.
Finding what gives you meaning is an experience that’s personal to you. When you find and double down on these meaningful activities, accept them, love them, and don’t judge them. And most of all—keep them up.
Today's recommended meditation: