What Gives Your Life Meaning?

On a recent trip home, I said to my mom, “let’s assume you have ten good years left; how do you want to spend them?” Perhaps a bit direct, but I assure you it was said with care. Importantly, my mom didn’t have a clue how she wants to spend her seventies. So I asked her a followup question. “What are the things that, when you do them, make your day superb?”

Last week I was talking to a coaching client who is going through a bit of a rough patch. Real existential shit. I asked him the same question. “What are the things that don’t just make a day special, what are the things that remind you just how awesome life can be?” I’m talking about REAL satisfaction. And, again, they had no answer.

How can you possibly chase meaning in your life when you don’t know what constitutes meaning? So often, we set ourselves on autopilot and run through our days with zero intentionality. Sometimes we find ourselves naturally in alignment with the activities that give us meaning – if you derive great joy from exercising, there’s a decent chance you’ll make time to exercise. But do you close the loop? Do you occasionally pause and actively reflect on the meaning that exercise brings you?

For the better part of a decade, I’ve had a virtual sticky note on my computer’s desktop with the activities that give me meaning. I don’t expect to do all of these in a single day, but rather, it’s a pool of options that, if I can do more than one in a day, I feel fucking great. #BestLife.

I may tweak the wording from year to year, but the bullets themselves have remained remarkably stable, even if my intentionality has varied wildly over the past decade:

  1. Give an entrepreneur impactful advice (Value: Competence)
  2. Spend time doing something together with one of my sons (Value: Fatherhood)
  3. Create a lasting memory with my (future) wife (Value: Intimacy)
  4. Have a deep conversation with a close friend (Value: Connection)
  5. Exercise to the point of exhaustion (Value: Strength)
  6. Listen to music that gives me frisson of excitement (Value: Music)
  7. Create something tangible (stained glass, woodworking, music, etc) (Value: Creativity)

It wasn’t until I talked to my mom that I realized I had been on autopilot for a while. Thankfully, the first five have been on lock for a while, but the last two suffer greatly without intention. So this week I’ve been listening to more music (my first ever set of AirPods arrive today) and I have scheduled cleaning out the garage so that I can start my next creative project.

If you don’t have your list of five to eight activities that make your life worth living, maybe it’s time to step back and figure them out. Truly, any day where I hit two or three of my values is a great day. And with a bit of thoughtfulness, just about every day is a great day for me. I wish the same for you.


I haven’t been posting to OSA for a long time. Consider this my first attempt at creating sometime tangible in advance of cleaning out my garage (because that is going to suck). If you ever feel like talking about the activities that bring your life meaning, give me a shout at eric@marcoullier.com or visit my web site.


(Photo by Yohann LIBOT on Unsplash)

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