“What is your purpose in life?”
Is this a question you often ask yourself? Is it something that pops up whenever you feel like life is just a never-ending race filled with mundane tasks?
Research shows that a sense of purpose is essential for our well-being. You know why? Because purpose is what gives us a meaningful life.
What if you aren’t sure of your purpose then? Does that mean your life is…meaningless?
Not really. There are some signs that should assure you you’re on the right track, even if you don’t think so.
Here’s a list of 9 signs that you might already be living a life full of meaning and purpose, even amidst all the chaos.
1) You feel a range of emotions
Let’s start with a simple one. You might think that the very act of feeling joyful, sad, excited, melancholy, and all other emotions don’t count towards a meaningful life.
But it absolutely does.
Think about it: if you don’t feel anything, if life feels like just one shade of gray…are you even really living? Or are you just existing?
Being able to feel those ups and downs and in-betweens are what makes life beautiful. It’s what’s responsible for all the songs, stories, and art in the world that move us.
This reminds me of a poet friend of mine who, upon traveling to a certain place, said, “I don’t think I can write anything here. There’s nothing to feel.”
That comment struck me as strange at the time, but it totally makes sense, doesn’t it?
Without the ability to feel a range of emotions, we might as well be cardboard cutouts pretending to be human.
That also means we won’t have this next thing that gives our lives meaning…
2) You have genuine relationships
Do you have good people around you? Folks you can turn to in both good times and bad?
The key word here is ‘genuine’. Quality over quantity, always.
You might have social media connections and followers in the thousands, but how many of those can you really count on?
As an introvert, I’ve always kept a small circle. But I’ve never wished I had more friends because those few I have are absolutely enough.
I know that they love me unconditionally and that I can trust them to stand by me through the tough times. With them, I have a sense of belonging.
And as philosopher Emily Esfahani Smith says in this article, belonging is one pillar of what makes life meaningful.
3) You give more than you take
Another thing that got me through my lowest points is being able to help others.
It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But believe me, when you’re down in the dumps or feeling lost, doing an act of kindness for someone else can uplift you, bit by bit.
So, you might not know yet what your larger purpose on earth is or what direction to take your life in.
But one thing’s for sure: you can do good wherever you are, and that on its own is a sense of purpose.
Don’t believe me? Take it from science, then. Research shows that when we engage in prosocial and outward-facing activities, our life becomes more meaningful.
Here’s why – it meets our basic psychological needs for:
- Autonomy: giving is a choice we freely make
- Competence: when we help others, we feel good and capable
- Relatedness: helping others establishes social connections
Who knew the mere act of giving can do so much for our well-being?
4) You seek personal growth
Aside from giving more than taking, do you consistently pursue ways to become a better person? Do you receive feedback well and take it as the helpful tool it is?
I’m talking about all aspects of your life, whether it’s your career, your relationships, or your personal growth.
If you are, that indicates you’re living a meaningful life.
See, growth is another element of a meaningful life. It shows you have a forward-looking mindset.
And it’s proof that you’re not just existing. You’re expanding, evolving, and becoming a better version of yourself every day. That’s quite meaningful, if you ask me!
5) You learn from your mistakes
Speaking of evolving, mistakes are a natural part of it. You can’t grow if you can’t learn from your mistakes.
Look, living life meaningfully doesn’t mean it will all go smoothly. Certainty isn’t part of it.
It would be lovely if our every move was spot-on, isn’t it? But life isn’t like that. And making mistakes doesn’t make it less meaningful.
I love this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
I repeat – the next best thing is the wrong thing. Because at least, you’ll learn something from it!
So, if you struggle with making a move because you’re afraid to fail, it might help to think about that.
6) You have goals and dreams
Do you have a dream career, financial goals, or a dream destination? Do you wake up every day with things you want to accomplish?
Whatever you’ve got on your to-do list and bucket list, those are proof that you’re living a meaningful life even if you don’t think so. It points once again to your forward-looking mindset.
In my younger years, I wasn’t very goal-oriented. No, let’s rephrase that. I literally had zero goals.
I didn’t even know what exactly I wanted to do in life, so I was coasting along on jobs just doing the bare minimum.
As you can guess, after a while, I felt empty. Aimless. I was asking the very question I asked you in the intro – “What is my purpose?”
I had to sit down and really reflect on that. I kept thinking that I didn’t want to lie on my deathbed regretting the lack of intentionality in my life.
Feeling lost yourself? Try goal-setting with these steps:
- Reflect on your values. What matters most to you? What do you find meaningful and satisfying?
- Visualize your ideal future. What would you want your life to look like in the next five or ten years?
- Identify your areas for improvement. What would you like to improve or change in yourself?
- Break down big goals into smaller ones. Getting to the top is just a series of baby steps, after all.
- Make those goals realistic and doable given your time and resources.
- Keep it balanced. Set goals in different areas of your life, not just one. So think about what you’d like to do in terms of your health, relationships, career, recreation, etc.
- Write your goals down. You want to make them tangible where you can see them, so they’re not just floating around in the ether.
7) You’re not afraid of hard work
Of course, those goals won’t happen without hard work. So if the thought of working for them doesn’t scare you, that’s a great sign you’re living meaningfully.
I know people who have all sorts of lofty dreams and grand ideas. They talk big, but then, when the time comes to buckle down to work, they’re nowhere to be found.
A good work ethic is essential for a meaningful life. Otherwise, how can you be productive?
How can you say one day in the future, “I’m proud of my life’s work,” if you didn’t make that commitment to do the best you can?
8) You take time for self-care
Balance hard work with thoughtful self-care, and you’ve got a pretty meaningful life going on.
Some people go to the extreme of working too hard in the pursuit of their goals. But without self-care, they crash and burn.
There’s this misconception that meaningful work means giving of yourself selflessly till you’re empty.
There are hundreds of jobs like this – off the top of my head, teachers and healthcare professionals, for instance.
9) You live according to your values
Remember the goal-setting exercises I mentioned earlier? In the first stage, see how it says “reflect on your values”?
This is perhaps the most important rule in making a meaningful life – whatever you do must be in agreement with those values.
Because if not, you won’t feel fulfilled. You’ll do things that ultimately hold no meaning for you.
The bottom line: your life will feel fake and hollow, a far cry from the purposeful one it should be.
10) You appreciate the little things
Finally, check how you feel about the little things. Do you notice and feel joy when you see a gorgeous sunset, for example? Or hear someone laughing?
Those tiny joys might not seem like much, but believe me, they are packed with so much beauty that gives our lives meaning.
And if you can appreciate them, it means you have a sense of gratitude. It shows you’re connected to the world around you, which ultimately, is what meaning-making is all about.