The 2 Things You Need to Live a Fulfilling Life
As my hero Oprah encourages us all to do, I want to live my “best life.” I also want to help others live their best lives. Given this, both on a professional and personal level, I’m constantly looking at research and wisdom on how to live a joyful, actualized, and fulfilling life.
Lately, I’ve noticed that two points come up repeatedly when it comes to living well: the importance of finding meaning in our lives, and the importance of developing social relationships. Not surprisingly, they’re connected for many of us.
Researchers are continuing to uncover just how important these deeper aspects—meaning and social relationships—are to our well-being and even our longevity. They’re sharing some really interesting insights that I want to highlight, since I hear from so many people about wanting to live better.
Live Better By Finding Meaning
When I was vacationing with my sister last year, she brought along a copy of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s profound 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. She was gripped by the book and passed it along to me. I had the same response (and our gal Oprah is a big fan of his work too!). In the book, Frankl details his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and what he observed about the differences in how his fellow prisoners fared under such extreme circumstances. Essentially, what Frankl shares is that the greatest task we have in our lives is to find meaning from one moment to the next—and that no matter how much is taken away from us, we still have the power to choose how we respond to our circumstances.
Frankl’s central belief is that life is “not a quest for pleasure…or a quest for power…but a quest for meaning.” He explains that there are a number of ways that we can choose to find meaning on our journeys, and that it’s up to each of us to decide which path we follow. Some people find their meaning through work, some by loving others, and some through having courage in difficult times. The key here is that we all possess choice—it’s up to us to exercise that choice in how we live.
Frankl’s wisdom is enduring. Contemporary researchers are still talking about the critical importance of finding meaning in life, and revealing new aspects of how this shows up. For example, in his book Drive, Daniel Pink explores the factors that motivate us at work. Like Frankl, he believes—based on several scientific studies on motivation—that we are driven by intrinsic rather than extrinsic factors. Namely, the science shows, we’re driven by having autonomy, mastery, and purpose in what we do. Pink notes that these three factors far outperform what we’ve traditionally believed motivates us (punishment and reward). (If you want to hear more, check out this great animation of his concept!)
I’ve found in my own research that our ability to find meaning and purpose in life is directly connected to authenticity. In my life, the quest for meaning and the commitment to living authentically have been inextricably linked. When we find our meaning and purpose and live it out by being authentic, we’re much better able to live a life centered on our values, too.
One of the best things I ever did was to give up being an employee and work for myself. The decision to build a business around my passion for social justice, inclusion, and empowerment has made room for a tremendous amount of meaning in my life—and I’ve seen this happen for countless others who’ve committed to authenticity as well.
Live Better by Developing Social Relationships
In her 2017 TED Talk psychologist Susan Pinker presents some eye-opening research. The answer to living longer lives, says Pinker, is not what we expect. A study examining numerous aspects of lifestyle finds that the top two predictors of long life do not include diet, exercise, alcohol use, or even genes. The two predictors are close relationships and social integration (interactions you have with other people throughout your day, like greeting your taxi driver, the person who serves you lunch, etcetera). This research says that interacting with others influences the chemical processes of the body, improving our health by lowering our cortisol levels and increasing the release of dopamine. Simply put—in order to be healthy, people need people.
Relationships are a predictor of longevity, and they are also a predictor of happiness. A longitudinal study conducted by Harvard beginning in 1938 set out to understand what leads to happy and healthy lives. What this nearly 80-year long study revealed is that “close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.” The study finds that healthy relationships have a positive effect on both physical and mental health. In essence, good relationships are powerful indicators of both our quality of life and how we will age.
So what is the best way to go about cultivating strong, close, and meaningful relationships? The answer here, too, is authenticity. As I reveal in my book, when we consistently choose to know, embrace, and be our authentic selves as often as possible, we feel better about ourselves, we bring this spirit to our interactions, and, in doing so, we invite others to do the same. This fosters more meaningful and deeper connections with others, which will, in turn, improve our health.
The work of these writers and researchers proves a fascinating point—that in order to truly care for ourselves, we need to focus both inward (to find meaning) and outward (to develop relationships). The key takeaways are quite simple: find meaning and develop relationships to live a more fulfilling life. And I can tell you, from my own personal and professional experiences, that the research is spot on.