What is meaningful?

Most of the time, we do things habitually: We get up, brush our teeth, put on clothes, commute to work, do what we know how to do all day, get ourselves some entertainment, undress, go to bed, sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

Habits are the foundation of existence. Habits of thought, emotion, deed. If we had to rethink how to brush our teeth, how to walk, what we do everyday all the time, we would go insane – and we probably would not be able to function all too well in this reality. Most of the habits we have serve us. Otherwise, we would not have let them become habits in the first place.



Growing up happens

But things change all the time. While we still carry the five year old and the twelve year old we once were inside of us, some of the habits and beliefs that served us then, do not serve us any longer today. Our environments have changed, our relationships, our activities.

Crisis of Meaning

Most of the time, people will still stick to their habits and beliefs, even if they do not actually have meaning anymore. Only when things break down do we experience a crisis of meaning. Often this does not happen until later in life, when we have actually accomplished the things that were supposed to be meaningful to us, or when we realize that we hit a half-way point on the journey toward death.

Time runs out for everyone...

What is meaning?

Meaning comes from the verb to mean, which comes from German meinen, originally meaning “to think” or “have an opinion”. “Mein” in German is also a possessive pronoun and translates to “mine”. It’s your unique point of view not that of someone else.

Your meaning is and can only be your own. It’s about your opinion, your thoughts, your values.


Many of our values are adopted from MFPT (mother, father, preacher, teacher – all in the most encompassing sense). If we simply adopt them, without questioning them, they are ultimately meaningless… and you are not living your own life. You are living the life “other” is expecting you to live.

Whose values are you living?

Make life your own

Only if you reflect on your values, beliefs and habits, only if you decide to indeed make them your own, do they gain meaning. When you do things in accordance with your values, it becomes meaningful to you. When you take the time to ask for the motivation behind your actions, you begin to fill your day with meaning, make it meaning-full. You stop being reactive and start becoming proactive about your life.

If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway

As pointed out above, if you had to consider everything all the time, you would have difficulty functioning in this reality. There are habits that serve us. Some obviously don’t, while with others, it’s harder to tell. Get started on the low-hanging fruit. Find the habits that you engage in and don’t even know why anymore. Start filling that space with new habits that you would like to experience, so that the old ones can go away. Then hone in on the more subtle dynamics.

Practice, practice, practice

That is why it is important to take time out to reflect. Similar to sports where you practice and practice, and practice: refine subtleties again and again. Then, when you hit the field, all you can care about is being in the moment. At that point, there is not time for reflection. At that point, you simply shift into being and doing.

Reflection time again


Create that space in your life. Whether weekly or even better daily, take time out to reflect. You can do it in the mornings, looking ahead at your day, or in the evenings, letting the events of the day pass by while asking yourself which values of yours the activities of the day served. Ideally, do both. And keep record. This will help you see your own progress and help remind you why you do all this in the first place:

To live a life of meaning…

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  2 comments for “What is meaningful?

  1. Todd B
    October 25, 2011 at 00:49

    This is a great article, thanks so much for sharing it!  The ability to create a habit to regularly reflect on one’s life is both exciting and daunting.  I sort of wish there was a big bell that rang each day so everybody would have to stop what they’re doing and recalibrate their minds….. Hmmm, how hard could it be….:) 

    • October 25, 2011 at 01:48

      Thank you for your feedback. Glad you enjoyed. What you are bringing up is exactly why I think that it’s so important to have some sort of morning or evening practice. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. Do one thing for yourself every morning and your day has a completely different tone… Other reminders can be sticky pad notes on your computer, in your car, on the batchroom mirror… And at any point throughout the day, check on your breath 😉

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