We all wish to live a meaningful life. To have a meaningful life you need to have some ideal you’re striving after. The ideal can be hard to see, especially when you first start seeking it, because you’re probably so far off course from it that you’re not entirely sure what it is. The sense of life being meaningful comes from the journey of refining our vision of that ideal – or perhaps we refine the ideal itself, there’s no difference except how you conceptualize it – and moving towards it.
It’s not strange or a personal failing to not clearly understand what your ideal is. In fact, if someone showed you your ideal in its totality, there’s a good chance you would reject it. And why not? You probably think your ideal is very different. You haven’t gone on the adventure of finding it. What do you know? The practical implication here is that you shouldn’t reject opportunities to do things, because they might show you what your ideal is. Or what your ideal isn’t, and that’s just as valid.
That idyllic, maximally meaningful state isn’t some far off, distant thing though. If you’re willing to engage with life, it’ll show itself all over the place.
It shows itself in those activities that you like doing. What do you feel a passion for? What do you not dread doing?
It shows itself in those activities where you enter the flow state. That is, where you become so engaged that the hours slip away. It’s when you’re doing something hard enough to be challenging, but easy enough to be enjoyable.
It shows itself in the people around you who have traits you admire. I admire traits like intelligence, competence, compassion, and sociability. Who are the people you consider role models? Who are your favorite superheros and fictional characters? What is so admirable about them?
The opposite holds true as well. What do you dread doing? What feels like torture from start to end? What makes people disgusting to you?
These are excellent questions to consider, because they reveal your ideal life and meaning just a little bit. Or maybe a lot. So then you go after these things, engaging in them or avoiding them if they’re bad. And now you’re a little wiser and tuned in. And you can see that you’re especially drawn to some subset of something. Or that you were drawn to something at first, but once you dug deeper you found it wasn’t so great. But in doing so you also saw specifically what drew you to it, and how you might find that elsewhere. It’s a process of continual refinement.
Now here’s a good question. What if you legitimately don’t see your meaning in anything or anyone? Like the whole world’s neutral and gray. I’d recommend you start by doing things that are good for you. How can you improve the way you take care of your body? How can you improve your friendships, or make friendships if you have none? How can you find productive work? How can you find a romantic partner? What about fixing up your thought processes so you’re working with yourself and not against?
These actions will almost certainly raise up your state of being, and in doing so start building up your ideal. You’ll find things you do and don’t like. And the life long journey will begin.
What’s interesting is sometimes part of the ideal will just come as a flash of intuition. Earlier today I had that happen. I’ve started feeling a yearning for becoming something of a perpetual wanderer, who freelances as needed but spends his days experiencing new things. Today the realization hit me – I want to be a daytime traveler. I’ve never been a night owl, and I’ve never understood how the night is idolized by so many. I’d be the kind who’d go to bed relatively early – say 10 PM, absolutely no later than 11. And while I’d always allow myself the option of getting up as late as I want, because sometimes you just need to sleep in til 10, in practice I’d be getting out at 8 AM. (I probably don’t need to sleep 9 hours a night, but my circadian rhythm makes waking up before 8 an unpleasant experience.) This means I’d be missing on the nightlife scene, but that’s OK! I’ve never much cared for it anyway.