I have many clients -- mostly artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers -- who come to me with existential questions. For them, I compiled a list of tools for creating a meaningful life:
10. Be a citizen of the world. Know as much as possible about what is going on in world, such as how many people will die today, how many people will be tortured by fellow human beings today, how many people will go to sleep hungry tonight, how many people will receive inadequate medical attention today, how many people won't have clean water today, etc. Being a citizen of the world means not taking the privileges and freedoms we enjoy for granted.
9. Be political. Voting is a privilege, not a right. Every vote counts. Your voice counts. There is no possible excuse for being apathetic about politics. We live in a representative democracy; representatives are hired and employed by you and me to represent our beliefs. Once you get an idea of how other countries operate, you will understand what a great privilege this is.
8. Cultivate your sense of wonder. There is no end to the beauty, splendor and majesty to be found in the world. Most people don't prioritize finding things to be passionate about or inspired by; they claim that they "don't have the time" or "will do it later." There is only today, right now: If you always wanted to learn how to play the piano, understand opera, take a hike, learn to snorkel -- whatever -- do it today. Devote time every day to exploring your passions and potential new interests.
7. Release the future -- release expectations, don't be goal oriented, and enjoy the process. Often the only thing that seems to count is the end result; we seldom appreciate the process. We tend to nonchalantly discuss our accomplishments but rarely speak about the processes, other than that we "worked hard" to achieve what we achieved (since "working hard" is an admirable quality in our culture). Learn to accept and enjoy life today and not make extreme sacrifices for some potential future goal that may not ever arrive.
6. Release the past. Our scientific methods seek causality and psychology often inadvertently seeks blame. The blame game pays remarkable dividends for a limited time but if our identity and self-worth hover around positively- or negatively-charged events that occurred in the past then we are not being present and not able to show up authentically for our current relationships.
5. Cultivate empathy and loving kindness. There is zero long-term benefit to being selfish, evil, greedy, or insolent. Compassion for all sentient beings -- as we learned in the childhood adage, "Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you" -- is actually the only rational way of acting in the world if you intend to create a meaningful life.
4. Cultivate equanimity, minimize drama, don't be reactive. At the end of the day, no matter how much immature glee we derive from drama, drama is ultimately toxic. We may lose our tempers occasionally. But once we realize that we have the choice to deliver our messages with compassion or attached to nuclear warheads, the choice in gaining our desired results becomes clear.
3. Be authentic. Don't buy into a lifestyle. Don't be a consumer. Don't try to attain putative status through symbols. Be conscious of distractions and realize their subtle propensity to become afflictions and addictions.
2. Be grateful. In some way, if you are reading this you are already living in abundance. You can breathe, you can see, you can read, you can comprehend, you can think, you can make choices, you can appreciate, you can be passionate, you can experience emotions... the list of things to be grateful for is infinite no matter how challenging our life situations may seem.
1. Serve others. The most precise tool for creating a meaningful life is certainly being of service to others. Whether it's volunteering to read to blind people, helping a family build a home, fixing somebody's flat tire, supporting someone who's battling an addiction, or teaching your children how to paint, being of service helps us get out of our egos and realize the common bonds that unite all human beings: we all have strengths and weaknesses; we are interdependent creatures; we all could use a helping hand and a compassionate ear once in a while; and we all need healthy and loving connections with other people. When you learn to serve others selflessly you tap into the inner goodness and love buried beneath your ego and protective facade. The joy of putting a smile on another person's face is by far the most precious thing you'll experience in this lifetime.