There has been a lot of discussion in the media recently about which lives matter and why.
The obvious answer is that every life matters; every life is important. However, we all know people who use their lives to make a positive difference on others. It may be a mother or father raising children, a teacher influencing students in the classroom, an ecclesiastical leader, a public servant, or a friend or relative who is there in a time of need. These influential people make their lives matter by living purposefully—intentionally. They willingly make the effort (and oftentimes the sacrifice) to help their fellowmen and do good in the world.
The end result of living a life that matters is joy and happiness. Have you ever met someone living purposefully who says, “I really hate my life!”? Probably not, because those people aren’t focused on themselves. They are all about making a difference in others’ lives.
So what are the attributes and characteristics these "difference makers" share that help bring purpose to their lives and others? Here are three."
Key 1: Be a Doer, Not a Spectator
Today we live in a spectator society. We spend much of our "spare" time watching TV, browsing social media, playing video games, or doing other passive activities. Those who live purposeful and impactful lives, however, use their time doing rather than watching.
Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Steve Jobs did not become household names because they sat on their front porches watching the neighbors stroll by. Rather, they spent their time trying to find ways to improve others' lives. They worked tirelessly and squeezed the most out of every minute God had given them.
The primary difference between a purposeful life and a non-purposeful life is intention and action. The Bible admonishes us to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Purposeful people understand the value of time. We each have 24 hours in a day to do with as we please. But it is what we do with that time that determines how much good we can accomplish and how much joy we experience in life. Purposeful people prioritize their time to do the things that make the most difference.
In 1978, while serving as a missionary, I was traveling with Elder G. Homer Durham of the First Quorum of the Seventy in Chile. I turned to him and asked, “Elder Durham, I am going home in a couple of weeks. What advice do you have to help me be successful in life?”
Elder Durham was one of the smartest men I had ever met. He had been Commissioner of Higher Education in Utah and President of Arizona State University. For me, this was like climbing a mountain to speak with a guru.
He didn’t answer immediately. He thought for a second and then said, “If I were you, I would live close to where you work so you don’t spend all your time commuting.”
That was it?! I was expecting something profound and life-changing. I confess, I was disappointed by his advice. But the older I have become, the more I have seen the wisdom in his response. He understood the value of time and knew I would be able to accomplish more good in the world if I did not have to spend an inordinate amount of time driving to and from work.
The bottom line is that it is impossible to live a life that matters if you are not spending your time on good things. A life cannot be purposeful without action.
Key 2: Cultivate Meaningful Relationships
The most important and impactful thing we do in our lives is interact with other human beings. At the end of our lives, relationships will be one of the few things that pass through the veil with us.
Nearly all of us have been the beneficiaries of parents, siblings, friends, teachers, work associates, and mentors who cared about us and helped us along life's path. It is virtually impossible to live a life that matters if we do not touch another soul in some fashion.
Purposeful people understand the value of relationships and make the needed investment of time and emotion to cultivate those relationships that are most important and meaningful.
Of all the relationships we experience throughout our lives, the most important and impactful, by far, are with those people closest to us. For instance, the parent-child relationship has a lasting influence that is immeasurable. As parents, the most important thing we can do in this world is to raise our children to be responsible, contributing members of society. President David O. McKay was spot-on with his oft-quoted counsel: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
Another relationship with a huge impact on our happiness and our ability to do good in the world is that which we enjoy with our spouse. A positive, supportive spouse can inspire us to be our best selves, helping us to accomplish great things we couldn’t on our own. In return, we can help uplift and inspire our spouses, expanding our own dreams to encompass theirs as well.. Elder Ezra Taft Benson emphasized this in a 1979 talk he gave at Brigham Young University: “Happy is the man who has found his worship, his wife, and his work and loves all three.”
If we want to make a difference in the world and live a life that matters, we will most likely do it through our interactions with others. Making an effort to cultivate meaningful and lasting relationships with family members, friends, and peers will lead to increased happiness and to a more rewarding and productive life.
Key 3: Be a Lifelong Learner
Think of someone you know who really makes a difference and lives purposefully. Chances are good that this person is a learner. People who make a difference and are successful in life tend to be those who seek knowledge and learning. They understand the importance of filling their minds with knowledge on a regular basis.
Most people I consider to be successful are avid readers. They regularly take time to learn from the best books. There seems to be a tie to those who read on a frequent basis and those who attain success. Many of those same people communicate well, both verbally and in writing. This is because avid readers, when they could be passive, instead choose to engage their minds and seek to learn more about the world around them.
Recently, Shirley Paxman of Provo, Utah, passed away at age 96. Up until her death, she and her husband, Monroe, were regulars on the BYU and Utah Valley University campuses. They attended virtually every key lecture and activity on both campuses.
Long after most people had retired to their rocking chairs, the two of them spent their days learning and serving. At Shirley’s funeral, her children read a list of her accomplishments that could have filled an entire pamphlet. Her thirst for wisdom drove her to make a difference in the world for nearly a century.
We all want to leave the world better than we found it. We want our lives to matter. But it takes energy to live a purposeful and meaningful life. Anyone can live a non-purposeful life, but only those willing to plan and work can reach their divine potential. Following the fundamental principles and keys listed above will make all the difference in our ability to leave the world a better place than we found it.
For additional insights into making your life more productive and reaching your potential for happiness this year, check out Living a Life that Matters: 7 Keys to Purposeful Living by Val Hale.