How to Live a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms

Seven guidelines to follow when you're feeling stuck and wondering how to life a meaningful life.


Guideline #0 of 7: Don’t Trust Bloggers.

“How can this unqualified bozo of a blogger presume to be able to tell me how to live a meaningful life?”

Kudos to you if you wondered something along those lines before making the questionable decision to click the link to this post. You’re on the right track.

Because nobody—most certainly not me—can give you the answers to how to live a meaningful life. You have to figure it out for yourself.

But maybe I can help you with your search. I’ve done a lot of research into how to live a meaningful life and realized that much of what scientists, philosophers, and better bloggers than me say can be summarized into seven guidelines.

Believe it or not, sticking within them has helped my life feel more meaningful.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

#1: Make It Coherent

Your life can’t be meaningful if nobody understands it.

What story do you hope your life will ultimately tell?

What greater good does your existence on this planet do?

Or, if your life were a company and you were the CEO (a handy mindset for holding yourself accountable), what would be your mission statement?

Try to come up with coherent answers to those questions. Because nobody will understand your purpose otherwise, especially not yourself. And without purpose, you’ll lack meaning.

What’s more, a coherent plan/story/vision/mission/whatever-you-want-to-call-it:

  • Lights a fire under your ass
  • Guides your decision-making
  • Inspires others to help you
  • Keeps you away from the temptation of meaningless distraction
  • Increases your sense of well-being.

But what if you decide you need to change direction?

Then the next guideline for how to live a meaningful life applies.

#2: Rewrite As Needed

Your script isn’t set until you die, so don’t let your past get in your way. Rewrite on the fly.

“Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.”

Susan Statham

Compare the key scenes in your life to stars in the sky, writes Tasha Eurich in her book, Insight. You can’t change them once they’re there, but you can choose which ones to focus on and how to connect them into a constellation that tells the story you desire.

You don’t have to wait for the universe to give you starry scenes to work with, either. As we’ll see now in Guideline #3, you can, and should, proactively make them and give them an extra sparkle.

Celebrating success with high five
Celebrate and elevate scenes in life to create memorable scenes for your life’s story.

#3: Create Memorable Scenes

Actively look to create and enhance memorable and meaningful scenes in life.

Chip and Dan Heath introduced me to this guideline in their book, The Power of Moments.

Here are some suggestions they have for how to add memorable plot points to your life’s story that make it more meaningful:

  • Enhance major milestones. Tune your radar to crucial moments of transition in life, like firsts, lasts, graduations, weddings, and funerals. Then find ways to elevate them with grand celebrations.
  • Invent new milestones. For example, one widow’s had the idea of celebrating a “reverse wedding.” She went to church with her loved ones to celebrate her marriage that passed, remove her ring, and move on.
  • Go on micro-adventures. Try something new like traveling (or moving) to countries that make you uncomfortable. Or take on challenges like fasting. These mini-adventures will change your self-perception (see Guideline #8), give you the guts to take on more challenges, and teach you meaningful life lessons you can apply to your bigger story.

The thing is, many of the big scenes in life happen outside of your control. Guideline #4 explains how to react in those cases.

#4: Deal With It

When shit happens, deal with it. If not, life will stink.

Sometimes, life lays a steaming fat turd in front of you. Tough luck. Whining, complaining, blaming, or making excuses solves nothing and gets you nowhere. It just makes you a crazy person yelling at turds on sidewalks.

Deal with your shit, whether it’s your fault it’s there or not.

  • Often, the best approach is to walk around the mess and be smart enough to avoid going that way in the future. For example, I learned a lot of these lessons from my pretirement‘s failed “ad-ventures.”
  • Other times, you have to stop and clean it up. And if it keeps popping up (or pooping down), you’ve got to go to the source and put a stop to it. The daily gratefuls Kim and I have used to fix our relationship are a perfect example of this.
  • And sometimes you can turn that crap into manure and make something good out of it. This is related to the next guideline for how to live a meaningful life.
Chris improvising when Kim has different plans
“Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” to roll with the punches and keep a smile on everyone’s face.

#5: Improvise

Stick your “No, but…” where the sun don’t shine. “Yes, and..” everything.

This is the cardinal rule of improv comedy and just as important for living a meaningful life.

Example 1:

  • Scenario: Kim says, “Chris, since we’re getting kicked out of our apartment in Vancouver maybe we should move somewhere warmer and cheaper, like Colombia, for the winter?”
  • Instead of: “No, but we’d just gotten settled into the city, already have all sorts of plans for the winter, and you’ve got your granola business.”
  • Try: “Yes, and then we could keep improving our Spanish and experiment with remote businesses like blogging. I bet lots of friends and family would visit, too.”

Example 2:

  • Scenario: “Hey, some friends and I are going to do a 3-day fast together. You wanna join then celebrate breakfast together after?”
  • Instead of: “No, but fasting’s just a fad. Plus, I’m in the middle of a new carnivore diet, I get super hangry, and I need to be on my A-game for my super important meetings at work.”
  • Try: “Yes, and even if it goes to hell and I don’t make it even a full 24 hours, it’ll be an interesting experience. Plus, I bet that first bite of food after will be amazing.”

Mike Tyson famously said that “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Well, “Yes, and..” is rolling with those punches rather and seeing where it takes you rather than fighting back. At the very least, the result will be more humorous or unexpected than saying “No, but..” and holding tight to the status quo.

It also encourages open-mindedness because when you say “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” it forces you to better see and understand others’ perspectives.

Don’t you think?

Yes, and… [insert your additional agreements here].”

Nice work!

Improvising in life also fosters collaboration in the place of competition, which is part of the next guideline for how to live a meaningful life.

Smiling while sweating
Find struggles that put a smile on your face.

#6: Be Results Disoriented

Do things you want to do, not what you want the results of.

No amount of achievement—whether that be fame, wealth, or anything else—will grant you a meaningful life. Because once you achieve it, you’ll always ask, What’s next? So, “The journey is the reward,” as a million corny self-help posters say.

(Ironically, whoever sells those posters must have made a killing.)

How can you focus less on the results and more on the process?

Three things can help:

  1. Having a coherent mission of your own. (See Guideline #1.)
  2. Coming up with your own measure for keeping score in the game of life.
  3. Accepting the mindset that life’s not a competition.

Building on the third point, don’t make life harder than it has to be. Rather than try to beat others at it, figure out how to collaborate while winning your own game. And quit worrying about what the spectators think. Worry about pleasing your future self.

There’s no award for living the most meaningful life, anyway. But there is a punishment for not trying.

Looking down at your feet going nowhere
Nobody gets anywhere looking at their feet.

#7: Act First, Ask Questions Later

Read fewer blog posts like this on how to live a meaningful life, go do things, and use those experiences to figure it out.

Introspection doesn’t work. According to Tasha Eurich’s Insight, people who excessively self-reflect:

  • Are more stressed, depressed, and anxious.
  • Are less satisfied with their jobs and relationships.
  • Feel less in control of their lives.
  • Have less self-knowledge than people who spend less time introspecting.

Eurich says we need to be outrospective instead.

People see your actions, not your thoughts. That’s all your future self will remember, too1If you think you have a better memory of your past self’s thoughts, you’re mistaken. Read Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), one of my top “sledgehammer” books, for more on this.. So if you act a certain way enough, I become it.

How you act is who you are. Or, as James Clear puts it, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

And whoever you are, you can live a meaningful life. You just have to get your act in gear.

What are you waiting for?

Kim and Chris running and inviting you to join on their quest to live a meaningful life.
Join the ride.

If you enjoyed this but are still searching for more motivation, maybe check you these related posts:

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.