Insights: Have You Lived a Meaningful Life?

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A friend and I got into the discussion of what is it that is important at the end of our lives. Such a complex topic—or is it?

I often work with people at the end of their lives, and there is a single topic that comes up: have you lived a life that has meaning?

What does meaning, or meaningful,  look like? It’s different for everyone. I think we all would like to have some claim to fame, yet it’s really more about the simple things. Raising a family may be your purpose in life.  Think about the ramifications for raising a healthy family.  The ripple affect is tremendous.

Understanding that how you choose to be in your life is what is essential. Maybe you employ 50 people that allow them to support their families, or you volunteer your time for motel families, or you run a restaurant and ensure all your clients have a tremendous experience. Do you see how this has impacted these people’s lives, which in turns affects their families, which then affects those people around them? The impact goes on.

Often we are not aware of this impact of our choices on others. Think about how when we throw a rock in water it creates a ripple affect. Every choice we make does that in the world. Our choices, our actions are never isolated.

I watched an interesting documentary on Netflix called “Open Chef,” about a New York chef who decided to create a restaurant where all the food comes off his own farm. It was fascinating to see how small changes to the soil or what the animals were fed changed the color, quality or taste. It was incredible to see the impact.

Our lives are no different. What foods we eat, how we talk to people, what we do with our money—it all impacts not just our own life but those around us.

One philosophy I like to live by is to “Do no harm.” This is not just doing no harm to others but also our environment. We can do what is easy or we can do what is not doing any harm. Of course, like many things, it is easier said than done, so our goal is to keep this as a focus without expecting perfection.

Perfection of anything is an illusion, and something that keeps us actually distracted from looking at the larger purpose and the greater good.

It is easy to treat life like what we do, what we say, what we put in our bodies, our words as if they have little impact, but as author Ron Currie Jr. says “Everything ends, and everything matters. Everything truly matters.”

If we focus on being that best version of ourselves, we will naturally do no harm, and make good choices for ourselves.

It means slowing down enough to be aware of all these choices and not get distracted by what sounds like fun in the moment.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].

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