Directing your life to achieve meaning, fulfillment, and happiness is sure to make everything more enjoyable.

Happiness doesn’t need to be difficult: How to live a life of meaning and happiness in 7 steps

Are you disappointed with the direction of your life? Would you like to have more meaning in your work, fulfillment in your daily life, and spread your own infectious happiness? Have you made up your mind — “you ain’t wasting no more time?” — and ready to change the direction of your life?

I don’t know where I’m going
But I sure know where I’ve been
Hanging on the promises and songs of yesterday
And I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time


One of my relatives died with regrets. He worked too hard, didn’t have the relationship he wanted with his loved ones, and never became who he thought he was capable of being. Happiness eluded him and he always had a scowl on his face.

He had plenty of warning life would turn out that way because he lived into his nineties and knew for decades that his life was less than he wanted. Yet, he put off making any changes that would have moved him forward. In a word, he settled. He settled for far less than he had to. He could have changed direction at any point.

My great aunt, on the other hand, died with the knowledge that in spite of losing her husband 30-some years before, that she had lived life to the fullest and always strove for more meaning and connection to her loved ones. Perhaps the loss of her husband, as sad as it was, gave her the push she needed to make the changes she so treasured. I’m not even saying that she didn’t enjoy her life with her husband, simply that she continued to develop her quality of life.

The take-away? Don’t wait for a tragedy or anything else to get started.

Don’t wait for retirement, either.

It’s time, now, to make up your mind, and then follow the advice below.

Living Up to Your Potential

Each of us is born with potential to thrive. Not all of us, like my one relative at the beginning, live up to that potential. The next picture shows your potential quality of life as an arrow stretching from left to right.

The first person in the picture doesn’t live up to their potential because they haven’t directed their life. Their life quality, shown as a blue line, went forward, it went backward, curled around, and then sometime later in life mostly straightened up and made progress. The length of the line is the length of their life. The progress toward the right is the level of their life’s quality. Imagine with such a long life how they could have straightened it and made great progress.

The person at the bottom of the picture lived a much more directed life and progressed to reach their potential life quality.

We’ll explain how they did it in the video that follows.

Getting Started

Start by watching this video presentation. After the video, you’ll find that we’ve pulled the key information from it so you have a summary that links to other articles.

Directing Your Life

From early in your life you were conditioned that you have very little control in your life. Things happen no matter how much you don’t want them too. The bully picked on you at school. You got sick and tossed your cookies. Grandma got you a nice collection of white gym socks because they were on sale.

To make matters worse, we all have a fixed number of hours in a week — 168 to be exact. So, if you’ve learned time management, you’ve also learned that you can control your choices of how you spend your time. You can spend it on the activities of high value to yourself or on the activities that others would have you do that don’t align with yours whatsoever.

The next picture suggests that you decide how to spend your precious time by creating a truly compelling vision of your ideal self, and then to direct your life at key points to obtain that vision. The sooner you take “control” the sooner your life quality improves, and the more of your life you’ll live doing things of greater value.

At this point, you might ask, “But how do I design a vision of my ideal self?” That’s where the five selves and 7 steps come in.

The Five Selves You Need to Meet

There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.

Ben Franklin

Only you may define what brings the most value to your life. That value, or quality, is what gives you the most meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. Yet, if you don’t reflect on your life, you can miss what drives the quality of your life. If you don’t know that, then how can you set a powerful vision of your ideal self?

1. Your Past Real Self / Selves

Each of us changes continuously through life. So our real self, at any one time, is different from our real self at another time. We can reflect on these past real selves to determine what we had for dreams, what we did that led to the most significance, and who we cared most about and why. These past real selves are shown in orange in the following picture.

2. Your current real self

You will depart on your next journey from your current real self, the purple circle in the picture. All your current strengths, your values, what you like, dislike, and your habits are there for you to inspect.

Your past and current selves are your real selves. Your possible selves include your next self, your ought self, and your ideal self. These are visions of what a future real self could be.

3. Your future ideal self

Your ideal self, the right green circle in the picture, represents the ultimate vision of your desired future self. It will become the target you direct toward when guiding your life. You may see your ideal self at the end of your life, or simply 5 to 10 years out. As you gain experience, your ideal self will even evolve with your new understanding of your life.

4. Your next possible self

Your next self, the left green circle in the picture, is an intermediate vision between your current real self and your ideal self. It becomes a shorter-term target for your development that doesn’t require the great amount of growth needed for the ideal self. Like your ideal self, you may or may not become your next self. If you do, it will be another real self, and if not you can decide whether to continue striving for it or create a new next self.

5. Your ought self

The ought self, the gray circle in the picture, is a representation of what others say you ought to be. You could become your ought self, but you’d do better to avoid it, because seldom does it align with your future self. And if you live out of alignment with what makes quality in your life, you will not reach your target, and likely not enjoy or find it meaningful.

For tactics to ignore the criticisms of others, consult How to silence your worst critic even if it’s *gasp* yourself.

Seven Steps to Greater Life Quality and Happiness

The seven steps described in the video and in the picture below, when repeated year after year, will help you continuously live a higher quality life. Happiness will follow.

Seven steps taken repeatedly through life lead to greater life quality.

These steps break the entire set of actions into smaller chunks that are easier to learn and follow:

1. Analyze your current & past real selves

Analyze your current & past real selves to learn what matters most & least to you; make a list. What brought you happiness, meaning, and fulfillment? Why?

Write your discoveries down. We’re following the principle of Ink it, don’t just think it to make our thinking visible, memorable, changeable, and shareable.

When you’re really stuck, try writing to think. Set a timer for 15 minutes, write down a question, such as “what things did I like to do as a kid? and start writing without worrying about structure, flow, grammar, spelling, or whether you’re even making sense. Then go back over your writing and circle the key ideas. Rewrite the circled items in their final form. Repeat as necessary.

2. Envision your ideal self

Envision your ideal self from your list of what matters, and what would be your most meaningful, happy, and  highest quality life. Write it down. Rewrite it several times. Your ideal self profoundly affects your life, so feel free to spend some serious reflection time crafting your description.

Check out our articles on creating a life vision.

3. Assess your strengths

Assess your strengths in your current real self to understand what you want to keep and build on. Write them down, too.

Assessment and self-coaching are covered in Free Guide to Improve Anything – How to Give Feedback That Works.

4. Identify lifetime opportunities

Identify opportunities between your current real self and your future ideal self. These are the things that you still need to do or develop to reach your ideal state based on where you are now. And, *ahem*, write these down.

Consult our post, How to Discover Your Dreams in 6 Steps.

5. Select one-year opportunities & turn them into goals

Select one-year opportunities from the list of opportunities in step 4. These are the ones that will challenge you and yet still doable in the coming year. Write that set down, too. As you write them, develop them into specific goals that will help you know that you’re achieving them. Be careful to balance work with a little bit of time for happiness and fun.

Consult our other articles on managing your goals.

6. Identify resistors then plan, do, assess, & improve

Identify the things that will hold you back from your ideal; these are your resistors. They could be your own self-limiting beliefs, resistance from others in your life, or simply environmental constraints such as lack of money, etc. For each of them, you can plan how to accomplish your monthly goal, overcome the resistance, do your plan, assess it at the end of the month, and then improve the goal and plan for the next month. All in writing.

A system for getting things done is described in our article, Prioritize and Execute.

One of the biggest resistors many of us have had is not having a growth-mindset, the belief that struggle can be a great teacher if we’re willing to work hard and open to learning. Consult this article for inspiration: The best students actually love it when they fail.

You can also identify your promoters, the opposite of your resistors, that will help you achieve your goals.

7. Assess progress for the year, celebrate, and repeat 1-7

At end of year, assess progress, adjust your ideal self to reflect anything you learned about yourself, then repeat steps 1-7 for next year. Don’t forget to appreciate how far you’ve come and celebrate your accomplishments. Forgetting to reward or simply acknowledge ourselves or others diminishes happiness.

Consult this article to assess your progress: Keep Accountability by Assessing Your Goals Regularly

Tips for Achieving meaningfulness, fulfillment, and happiness

Here are a few tips designed to help you get started with a positive mindset.

  • To be happy, help others be happy. It’s sounds weird, but shifting your focus from yourself to others is much more likely to bring you happiness than seeking it out.
  • Don’t look for happiness to come from buying things, using drugs or alcohol, or making lots of money. Any happiness you get is likely to be short-term and just require more of the same.
  • Meaning and fulfillment often come from serving others in some way. If you’re on the service side of your work, that’s a pretty direct connection. Try going a little further than required to truly help people get what they need. If you’re in the back office or on the production floor, make a link to the benefit a customer gets from the product you support. Talk to others to find out what they find meaningful in the same company.
  • If you want to be positive, one of the easiest ways is to show gratitude each night before sleep. Write down three things you’re grateful for and why. THis has proven results for helping people be happier and more positive.

“And I’ve made up my mind…” to be direct, live a life of meaning & fulfillment, and to find happiness

Anyone can direct their life. All will find it challenging, especially at first and whenever a major event occurs. You past selves, contrary to Whitesnake, are likely not a waste of time. Our difficulties are our instructors.

The important thing is to get started. Use Head4Knowledge as a resource, and be sure to sign up for the H4K Community to get updates, free downloads, and be the first to know about any exclusive offers and content.


This approach has many contributors. The terminology of real, ideal, and ought selves came from the work of Richard Boyatzis at Case Western. Assessment of strengths and opportunities from the Academy of Process Education. Practicing positive psychology, founded by Martin Seligman and others, leads to increased meaning, happiness, and fulfillment.

The cover picture is used with permission from

The rest where the attribution has not been made, including video, graphics and the plan steps, are original work by David Leasure / Head4Knowledge, all copyrights reserved.