For a Meaningful Life, Ask Yourself Who You’d Bring to a Remote Island

Photo: Oleg GawriloFF, Shutterstock
Photo: Oleg GawriloFF, Shutterstock

As a philosopher and psychological researcher specializing in the meaning of life, Dr. Frank Martela is constantly fielding questions about how to make your life more meaningful. Clearly, that’s not an easy question, but he does have a suggestion for a thought exercise that could help: Ask yourself who you’d bring with you to a remote island. Here’s what to do and why it could help.

Which people in your life give it meaning?

According to Martela, finding the meaning of life is actually relatively simple: it’s about how to make yourself meaningful to other people. Here’s how he puts it in an article for TED (bold is his):

Your life becomes meaningful to you when you’re meaningful to other people: by helping a friend, by sharing a special moment with someone you love, or by connecting with a well-intentioned philosopher through buying him a much-needed beer.

Then, when we sense that our lives are meaningful to other people, we’re able to see the value in our own lives. The Universe may be silent, but our friends and family, our colleagues and community fill our lives with their voices, energy, and vitality.

The remote island exercise

To find out which people in your life give it meaning, Martela suggests writing down the names of the people (as in, ones you actually know and have existing relationships with) who you’d take to a remote island or on a sailing trip that would last several months. If you need some guidance on how to do that, here’s what he says (again, bold is his):

Think about it yourself: Who would you bring? Can you identify the people who are truly important to you and with whom the mere fact of being together is a source of vitality and meaning?

Once you’ve identified them, think about how much time and energy you currently devote to them.

Furthermore, think of your interactions with them: Have you been authentic and true with them, with yourself?

According to Martela, having a meaningful and well-lived life involves having a few people in your life that you can genuinely trust, care about, and love.

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