I mean the times when you feel your heart pumping, blood running through your veins. Waking up excited about something. Feeling purpose and fulfillment in your relationships. Seeing the world in full color. Doing something terrifying. When did you last feel those things? Have you ever felt those things? Many of us live so much of our lives just merely… alive. We live so far below our opportunities and potential. What is the difference between being alive and actually living?

What it Looks Like

Being alive means, literally, that your heart is beating and you are breathing in oxygen. Figuratively, we mean that you’re functioning. You get adequate sleep, eat food, fulfill your responsibilities, and just generally survive. Being alive doesn’t mean you’re a zombie or robot. It doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of feeling joy or purpose. It just means that there’s a higher way of living.

When you’re actually living, you taste the vibrancy of your food as you eat. You stop to smell the roses – figuratively and literally. You play hard, work hard, rest hard. Actually living looks like pure joy and powerful emotions – even if they’re sad. You have dreams and excitement about the future. You try new things and get messy in the process. You take risks and learn from them. It’s a higher, better, more successful way of living.

How to Actually Live

The first step to actually living is practicing mindfulness. You can begin right now by analyzing your body sensations. Where are you holding tension? How does it feel to take deep breaths? Start checking in with your emotions each night before bed, asking yourself how your day went, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Being alive sometimes can feel as if you are simply existing while life is happening around you and dealing with things as they come. Actually living has also been called living on purpose.

The most important part of actually living is maintaining a big picture frame of mind. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day chores and work. Drudgery quickly pulls you into just being alive, not actually living. Instead, take time to think about the big picture – the end. What do you want to be said of you at your funeral? What do you want your life to feel like? Where do you want to be in a year or five years?

So the next time you’re driving to work consider taking a new route. When you are at your favorite restaurant order something new. Take that vacation you’ve always dreamed, or do something completely different like sign up for a local class or be in a play.

Remember to explore the things you might find make you happy and try something new. Face your biggest fear. Tell someone something you’ve been worrying about or keeping secret. Take control of a troublesome situation. Start thinking and behaving proactively. This is how life becomes more real and breaks you out of the “being alive” routine.

Finally, Be Thankful. Pick a few small and simple things to truly savor and enjoy each day. A favorite song. A great conversation. Savoring food with each bite. This will bleed into your entire life and you’ll deepen emotions in an incredible way. You will begin truly living, not just living.

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