• Meaningful Life Map: Your no-fluff guide to creating a life of meaning

    June 6, 2017 | curtrosengren
  • hot air balloons

    On a scale of 1 – 10, how much meaning do you feel in your life right now? Does it feel rich and full? Or do you feel like you’re just going to the motions? Or maybe you feel hints of meaning here and there, but still have a nagging feeling that there must be more than “just this.”

    If you rated your life on the low end of the meaning scale, you’re far from alone. We as a culture are smack dab in the middle of a meaning deficit epidemic. All too often, we’re left with a nagging emptiness that our collective obsession with the shallow, superficial, and material just won’t fill.

    This is the main post in a series that will look at meaning. I want to explore questions like, what is meaning? How can you find it? And most importantly, what specifically can you do to proactively bring more of it into your life?

    I want to take it out of the context of some dramatic quest to Live a Life of Meaning and demystify it, exploring its potential to be a part of your regular, everyday life.

    What makes life meaningful?

    Let’s start with the obvious first question – what makes life meaningful?

    I don’t have the hubris to think I have the faintest clue what will make your life meaningful. Meaning is a tremendously individual thing, and telling you how to experience it best is a bit like telling you what flavor of ice cream you should like.

    That said, I can point to a wide array of common sources of meaning.

    The following list is a distillation of the areas that have come up in my coaching work with people around meaning and the writing and research I have explored along the way.

    If you want to cultivate a life of meaning, first you need a deeper understanding of what feels meaningful to you. You can use the following list (and the corresponding posts I will be writing in this series) as a starting point.

    To begin your exploration, consider these categories. Each of them offers a potential vehicle to experience meaning in your life. (I will explore each of these topics more in depth in the weeks to come.)

    Making a difference: Having a positive impact in the world.

    Connection to others: Relationships with other people.

    Connection to something greater: Feeling connected to something beyond your own self, whether that is a movement, a cause, or a spiritual connection.

    Authentic living: Making your life an expression of who you are and what makes you tick.

    Passion: Doing work that leaves you feeling energized and alive.

    Values alignment: Living your life in alignment with your core values.

    Creative expression: Giving your creativity a vehicle to express itself.

    Vision: Working toward a vision that inspires you.

    Achievement (goals, challenges, mastery): Reaching for things beyond your current reach and achieving them.

    Learning and growing: Expanding in your knowledge, capabilities, and awareness.

    Love: Coming from a place of love and engaging the world from the heart.

    Make life a spiritual practice: Using the events of life as a way to embody your spirituality.

    Awareness and focus: Keeping what feels meaningful in your awareness and intentionally focusing on it (this is more of a meta-practice than a source of meaning in itself).

    Create your preliminary meaning map

    While these are all common themes, you’ll likely resonate more with some of them than others. You could do a deep dive into all of the categories on the list, but that might prove overwhelming and unwieldy. So to start, I suggest picking the ones that have the biggest charge for you. Aim to select three to five of them, a small enough number that you can dig deep into each.

    An easy way to get started is to go through the list and rate each source of meaning on a scale of 1 – 5 on the importance of each potential source of meaning to you. 1 is “not at all important” and 5 is “extremely important.”

    Once you have done that, scan through and pick the top five. Think of that is a preliminary lump-of-clay version of your meaning map (to be further sculpted and refined as you get more insight over time).

    Make a meaning menu

    Once you understand your own personal meaning map, you can start asking this simple question:

    Where are the opportunities for me to bring more of this into my life?

    Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, and continue to add to the list over time. Think of it as a “meaning menu” that you can choose from.

    Some of the items on the menu might be simple and easily implementable (like making a difference by sincerely complimenting someone, or giving them positive feedback on something they have done that you admire).

    Other things might be more involved (like committing to learning a skill you aspire to master, or starting to cultivate a network of like-minded people to help you move towards a long-term vision).

    The key is awareness. The more aware you are of the endless possibilities for engaging in what feels meaningful, the greater the potential to weave meaning into the fabric of your days.

    Notice and savor what’s already there

    It’s also worth noting that finding more meaning in your life isn’t just about looking for new things to incorporate. It’s also about recognizing what’s already there, acknowledging it, and experiencing it more fully.

    If you want to turn up the volume on the meaning you experience, it’s not enough just to have those meaning sources present. That’s a great step, but it’s all too easy to notice but not absorb. For maximum meaning, stop and savor. Regularly recognize what’s there. Soak up how it makes you feel.

    Even before you make any changes or additions to your life, I’m willing to bet you can find existing sources of meaning. Start there, and build on it.

    A final note

    As I see it, meaning doesn’t come from a solid, monolithic source. It is the sum total of many things, some big and dramatic, and some small and easily missed unless you’re actively noticing.

    Your goal with all of this isn’t to find <cue the trumpet fanfare> The Meaning of Life (said with a booming announcer’s voice). It’s to weave the meaning of life into your days, one thread, one strand at a time.

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