Are you living a meaningful life? I think it’s pretty difficult to lead a meaningful life when you’re working for someone else full time. You dedicate most of your waking hours to work and the remainder of your days is taken up by routine chores. Of course, if your work is meaningful, then you’ve got it made. You are making a difference and making the world a better place through your work. However, I think most jobs are very mundane and unsatisfying.
I worked at Intel for 16 years and overall, I felt my work was not very meaningful. I helped improved the speed and efficiency of your computer, but who really cares about a faster computer nowadays. I was just a cog in the wheel and I was easily replaceable. Computers will continue to improve no matter what I do. I wasn’t making much impact through work and I just didn’t have time or energy for anything outside of work. In short, I didn’t think I was making a difference and that’s part of the reason why I quit my engineering career.
It’s easy to dedicate your life to helping others if you’re the Dalai Lama. That’s his job. What about the rest of us? Can we live a meaningful life even when our jobs are inconsequential? I believe it’s possible, but it’s tough. A lot of people dedicate themselves to regular jobs so their families can live comfortably. I’m sure all of us would make some sacrifices so our children can have better lives than we do presently. Many people find ways to improve the world through donation, volunteering, and getting involved in their communities. You need to dedicate time outside of work for this and it’s not easy.
What is a meaningful life anyway? This is a slippery subject that is very difficult to summarize. I read up for this post, but the subject is expansive and no one agrees on the definition of ‘meaningful’. So I’ll just take a stab at it from a personal level. I think a meaningful life means you make a difference; your life is bigger than yourself. You can’t live a meaningful life by just focusing inward.
Surprisingly, researchers have found that a happy life and a meaningful life isn’t the same thing. There are overlaps, but there are distinct differences. Happiness is primarily about satisfying your present wants and needs. People are happy when life is easy and free from difficult or troubling events. Meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. Life is more meaningful with some struggles and challenges. That’s probably why people from wealthier countries are generally happier than people from poor countries, but the poor tends to find their lives more meaningful. The good news is you can have a meaningful and happy life and early retirement can help you get there.
Here are some ingredients to a meaningful life.
- Purpose – You need some goals and reasons to pursue those goals.
- Strong social connection – You need close friends and family to go through this journey together.
- Belief – You need to believe that you can make a difference.
- Self – Being true to yourself.
I cringe a little when I hear someone say they’ll retire early to travel. Traveling is a lot of fun, but simply traveling doesn’t lend itself to a meaningful life. It doesn’t seem sustainable to me to just keep traveling. Then again, life is a meandering road, so maybe they can find their real purpose while traveling the world. Retiring to a life of leisure won’t be satisfying because there is no meaning to it.
While early retirement can free you from the tyranny of full time work, you’ll still have to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life. You’ll have more time to refocus on what your life’s purpose might be while strengthening your social connections. Life will keep changing and our purpose will, too. Now I’m trying to raise my son to be a good successful man and it’s all encompassing. Blogging is also a great outlet and it is very fulfilling to positively influence some readers along the way. Early retirement enable me to lead a more meaningful life and a happier one. Of course, I’d like to do more to leave the world a better place for the future generations. RB40Jr will only be a kid for so long. I’ll have more time as he grows and I will try to make a difference in other areas, too. The world is a big mess and we all need to help fix it.
Are you leading a happy and meaningful life? How will you improve the lives of those around you?