10 Things That Make Our Lives Meaningful

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Happy woman walking in nature
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Life is full of little pleasures. From the first snowfall of the season to the last bite of our favorite dessert, these moments give our days a little more sparkle.

But some things go even deeper, making life not just enjoyable, but meaningful.

Recently, Pew Research Center surveyed nearly 19,000 adults from 17 advanced economies, including the United States, and asked them what brings meaning to their lives. Following are the categories cited by the greatest number of respondents.

10. Nature and the outdoors (tie)

Woman enjoying nature
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Respondents who mention this: 5%

Anyone who has sighed at a sunset or marveled at a flock of geese honking overhead knows that nature opens a window on the wonder of life. Soaking up such moments clearly gives life more meaning.

Residents of St. Petersburgh, Florida, likely know this well. The city ranked No. 1 in the nation in SmartAsset’s recent analysis “The 10 Best U.S. Cities for Outdoor Enthusiasts to Live and Work.”

10. Education and learning (tie)

Man reading a book
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Respondents who mention this: 5%

As the Greek philosopher Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Challenging our minds and discovering more about our world imbues it with meaning.

Opportunities to learn abound — you’ll find them everywhere, from your local university to the nearest library or your laptop computer. For more, check out “8 Ivy League Colleges That Offer Free Online Courses.”

8. Hobbies and recreation

Older father and son playing a video game
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Respondents who mention this: 10%

Life can be a drag if you never have any fun. So, it’s no surprise that people look to their hobbies and recreation opportunities as a way to bring more zest to their lives.

In fact, taking up new interests well into your senior years can pay big dividends. As we have reported:

“A 2020 study found that individuals between ages 60 and 80 had improved memory after playing a 3D Super Mario game for roughly half an hour daily over a month-long period.”

7. Freedom and independence

A happy woman on the beach
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Respondents who mention this: 12%

The joy of adulthood is being able to do what you want when you prefer to do it. That is true no matter where you live, but the sentiment is especially common in America, where we have placed a premium on freedom for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, the aging process can rob us of some of that treasured independence. To lower the risk of experiencing this fate, read “8 Essential Home Features for Aging in Place.”

6. Society and institutions

San Francisco, California
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Respondents who mention this: 14%

Even if you are single, you are never really alone. Instead, you are surrounded by people, places and institutions that give life a large share of its meaning.

While many of those people and places are close to home, you can open yourself to an even wider world simply by traveling. To find the best travel deals, check out Money Talks News partner ShermansTravel.

5. Physical and mental health

Woman stretching before exercise
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Respondents who mention this: 17%

A sound mind and fit body help us to enjoy all that life has to offer. In fact, it is difficult to put a price on physical and mental health.

For more on building a healthier you, read:

4. Friends and community

Group of friends eating at a restaurant
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Respondents who mention this: 18%

The simple joy of sharing a meal with friends ranks among life’s great privileges. Strong ties to friends and the local community are good for your mental health — and may even help you live more healthfully for a longer period.

For example, as we have reported, volunteering during your senior years has “a beneficial impact on self-reported health and reduced depressive symptoms in all older adults, regardless of their wealth status.”

3. Material well-being

senior couple saving money
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Respondents who mention this: 19%

There are things in life far more important than money. And yet, if you cannot pay your bills and live in a safe place, life probably doesn’t feel very meaningful.

If the financial part of your life is not where you would like it to be, consider enrolling in Money Talks News’ course Money Made Simple. MTN founder Stacy Johnson teaches the 14-week course, which offers lessons about money basics, including:

  • Budgeting
  • Banking
  • Credit
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Investing
  • Real estate
  • Estate planning

2. Occupation and career

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Respondents who mention this: 25%

Millions of us derive great satisfaction — and a big chunk of our identity — from our work. Fully one-quarter of people around the world say their job provides life with meaning.

If you dislike your job, maybe it’s time to try something new. Looking for the opportunity to work from home? Peruse the listings posted by Money Talks News’ partner FlexJobs.

1. Family and children

Family getting ready to travel
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Respondents who mention this: 38%

It probably comes as no surprise that family and children take the top slot on this list — and by a wide margin. Money and other measures of material success pale next to the meaning we get from being close to our loved ones.

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