4 simple rules for a more meaningful life, according to psychology

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Meaning: it’s something we all innately desire, but it’s often so, so elusive. 

What if I told you the keys to a more meaningful life are simpler than we think?

Yes, according to research and insights, there are simple rules that can guide us toward a life brimming with significance and joy.

Today, we dive into four such rules.  

Let’s get to it.

Rule #1: Make time for important relationships

This is a huge one, but one many of us seem to overlook.

We humans have always been social creatures; we are simply not meant to be alone.

Harvard researchers who are conducting the longest every study on happiness have found that it’s not career success, a fancy house or making an impact that keeps us happy and healthy. It’s our relationships.

In fact, good relationships for middle-aged people were found to be a better predictor of life expectancy than cholesterol.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is widely acknowledged to be hugely detrimental to our health. It is closely linked to depression, and even the US General Surgeon went as far as to say:

“The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”

The point is that to live any kind of meaningful life, we need people.

If you don’t already, make time for those you love. 

Rule #2: Focus on what you can control

One of my favorite quotes is by Stoic philosopher Epictetus. He wrote :

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”

If you are a regular reader here at Hack Spirit, you may have read an article or two in which I mentioned this. I write about it all the time…because it’s so important.

So many of us spend our days and weeks focused on things we can do absolutely nothing about. 

We worry about the economy. We worry about the weather. We spend so much time and energy fretting over what other people think of us. 

As put by Dave Ramsey, we even go as far to “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

What’s the result of this?

Nothing good. 

As put by Psychological and Educational Counselling, “Focusing on what we can’t control makes us less successful in achieving our goals because we consistently think about the outcomes we fear the most.”

To live a truly meaningful life, we need to focus our time and energy on the things we can control and let go of the rest

Rule #3: Balance your passions and your need for money  

As a young man, I had dreams of being a musician. 

But as I grew older, having recognized how difficult it is to make a living as an ‘artist’ and heeding the advice of my well-meaning parents, I changed my tune. 

I jumped into a ‘safe’ career that promised financial security: finance. But I just wasn’t cut out for that life; looking at spreadsheet after spreadsheet was slowly but surely bringing me down. 

Now, as you’ve probably guessed, I write articles like the one you are reading, and I am a lot happier doing so. 

So, what’s the point here?

Well, when it comes to work, it’s important we find what many would consider to be a sort of Ikigai balance: a balance of things that we are passionate about, things that we are good at, and crucially, things we can make money from.

Striving for money only leaves us miserable and unfulfilled. As put by philosopher Alan Watts, if you only aim for money, “You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living. That is to go on doing things you don’t like doing.” 

And so many of us do just that. A 2022 Gallup survey revealed that 6 in 10 people are emotionally detached at work, and a whopping 19% are miserable.

Yes, almost one in five people are miserable at work. 

Sure, we can and should find meaning outside of work, but with most of us destined to spend a huge proportion of our waking hours working, struggling through a job we hate is hardly a recipe for a meaningful life.

So ask yourself: What do you enjoy? What are you good at? What can make you money? 

The key to a meaningful career lies in the overlap of these three things. 

Rule #4: Say ‘no’ to the non-essential

There is so much pressure to do so much these days.

Many of us have a strong sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that causes us to overcommit. We say yes to every work project, social event, and new hobby that comes our way, thinking that by doing more, we’ll experience more of what life has to offer.

But the truth is we can’t do it all. 

We end up pouring from an empty cup. There is nothing meaningful about putting a half-baked effort into a world of things.

Worst of all, it often results in us living for others. This is widely recognized by experts in their fields. Psychologist Ahona Guha, in a Psychology Today post noted that “Every choice we make comes with a financial, time, and energetic cost, and we forget this to our detriment.”

And as bestselling author Greg McKeown put it, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

The point is that life is short, so short.

To really live it with meaning, we need to give to the things that really matter to us; not the things that kind of matter, the things that really matter.

The bottom line

That wraps it up for today, folks.

As always, I hope this post provided you with some value and inspiration for your own life.

Until next time.

Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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