Psychology: 4 ways to make your life more meaningful

Our lifetimes are limited and therefore precious, so the thought of potentially wasting them scares many people. But what can we do to prevent this? We have a few ideas.

First of all: the idea that our life could have any – or no – meaning is first and foremost a human invention. Without our interpretation and classification of the world into categories such as meaningful, ineffective or superfluous, everything that happens and exists would have the same meaning and the same value. This awareness can perhaps relieve some people and alleviate pressure or remorse a little. But it doesn’t make the question of meaningful life irrelevant. If we do feelThat we do nothing with our time is the decisive factor for us and ultimately just as painful as would we don’t do anything with our time. So it definitely makes sense to think about how we could live to avoid this agony if possible.

The American philosopher Cheshire Calhoun, like many other scholars, has devoted an entire book to this topic (Doing Valuable Time: The Present, the Future, and Meaningful Living), in which she describes four basic categories of how we use our time can spend:

  • Primary time: The philosopher understands primary time to be time that we spend doing something that we do for its own sake – for example because we enjoy it or are convinced that it has a value.
  • Filler time: Cheshire Calhoun uses the term filler time to describe periods of time in which we literally see the time to evictbecause, for example, we are waiting for something or have no idea what we would or could do that we would find useful.
  • Entailed time: We use entailed time (required time) to be able to spend primary time. For example, if our primary time is to go around the world in a sailboat, we might work in our entailed time to earn money from which we can buy the sailboat. Or hammer, screw and saw to restore an old sailing boat.
  • Norm-required time: The norm-required time category includes those periods in which we do things that are expected of us or because they are expected of us: Accompanying the partner to the wedding of his obnoxious sister, buying Christmas gifts for people who already have everything , and similar.

In order for our life to feel as meaningful to us as possible, in the philosopher’s view, with a view to her model, it would be best if the majority of it consisted of primary time and the other three types of lifetimes were less common – after all, primary time is filled with something that we find valuable. In order to maximize primary time in our life and reduce the other ways of spending time, the following steps can be helpful.

4 ways to make your life more meaningful

1. Define primary time

While we think of filler, entailed and norm-required time probably all quite similar examples, what we perceive as primary time is individual and can vary greatly from person to person. At least in the theory of Cheshire Calhoun, which takes a subjectivist view. An evening we spend with a friend can (and probably will with most) fall under primary time because we enjoy the time with her, she inspires us, helps us deal with our emotions, we strengthen our friendship and much more more. A jogging lap can also be primary time because running is fun, gives us ideas, we like to feel fit, and so on. Reading a good book, looking after other people, serving food, cutting hair, documenting endangered languages, praying – we can write in our primary time column what is of value to us personally. The only thing that matters is that we do it in order to be aware of what primary time is for us. Because only then can we perceive and feel them in our lives or, if necessary, create space for them.

2. Reflect on everyday life and assign activities

Of course we all somehow know what to do with our time. But to look at it in a targeted and very pragmatic way and to organize it can reveal a lot that is not so clear to us. How many hours are you awake every day? How many of them do you spend at work, with your social relationships, hobbies (sports, music, literature …), household, media, children, resting …? When you have listed and weighted everything: Which elements would you spontaneously write in your primary time column? In the best case scenario, it is most of them. The more there is in our life that matters to us, the better. Because it is less bad when something breaks down – or loses its meaning for us.

3. Make non-primary time primary

If you find little in your everyday life that you would classify in the primary time category, that does not automatically mean that you have to turn your whole life upside down. Perhaps you can also change something about your categorization through your attitude. Because as mentioned at the beginning: We decide what is important and what is not. And what we perceive as meaningful and what not, we can also influence with it. Time in which we do nothing because we currently have no ideas or energy can be primary time when we experience it as something that is good for us, relaxes us and gives us something that we need. We will only never experience it like this if we associate it with a bad conscience and feel guilty because we are not currently saving the world. Some activities that we would at first glance categorize as entailed or norm-required time – a job that we perceive primarily as a source of money, or a social event that we don’t feel like doing – can suddenly become primary time if we find something in it that interests, excites, inspires or exhilarates us. Searching for – and finding – this can make our lives subjectively more meaningful without us having to change an awful lot.

4. Prioritize primary-time activities

If too much of our life is spent on things that we cannot perceive as valuable in themselves from any angle, we have no choice but to try to reduce them or consistently do more of what feels meaningful to us. The latter is actually often easier in practice. If it’s primary time for you to read a book, but you hardly read a lot in everyday life, start by setting aside at least ten minutes for it, whether during your lunch break, before bed, or right after getting up. If it feels good, it was a step in the right direction and you can build on that – by increasing it to 20 minutes or trying to write it yourself with ten minutes.


There are certainly many other ways to give our life more meaning and to even approach the question of how best to spend our time. But some things will probably be counterproductive on the bottom line. For example, to stress ourselves, to orientate ourselves completely towards others and to stiffen on one single path. Because when we stress, we don’t feel what is good for us. If we orient ourselves to others, we become blind to our own ideas. And if we stiffen up on one path, let us take the chance to explore other beautiful paths.

Sources used:,, Cheshire Calhoun, “Doing Valuable Time: The Present, the Future, and Meaningful Living”