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Yale University professor outlines the essential steps to living a meaningful life

Miroslav Volf has highlighted the ways in which we can find happiness and live with substance.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s a question that has vexed the human race throughout time: How can you live a life filled with meaning?

Yale University theology professor Miroslav Volf attempts to help students find the answer in a class he teaches.

“The goal is not to constantly have to think about what kind of life is worth living,” he told TODAY’s Maria Shriver in a story that aired March 29. “The goal is for that vision of a good life to become one’s second nature.”

Volf, who is the director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School, has co-authored a new book, “Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most.”

He says the first step to finding a life worth living is to reevaluate what you think makes you happy, noting that we become interested in wanting things that other people appear to value.

Miroslav Volf wants people to question the ways to find a meaningful life.
Miroslav Volf wants people to question the ways to find a meaningful life.TODAY

Volf says we get caught up in inconsequential matters, like how much we earn and what we can buy and let that define success.

“(The) trouble with money is that pretty soon, money morphs from being a means to achieve certain end, to being an end in itself,” he said.

He says we need to step back and see the impact the quest for financial gain has on us.

“The question can be simply, what am I losing by pursuing monetary success? What am I getting and what am I losing?” he said.

Volf grew up in Communist Yugoslavia and found meaning in his own life through studying religion, which taught him the importance of another element of a good life.

He says we shouldn’t turn our backs on those we don’t agree with, but embrace them, because it represents a chance to discover something new.

“There is a commandment in First Peter, two words: ‘Honor everyone,’” he said. “Which means I need to listen to them, which means I need to open myself up to see whether I can learn something from a person with whom I profoundly disagree." 

Volf also says people have a lot to gain through pain and suffering, an idea that often confuses his students.

“I think pain matters because it opens us up to who we truly are,” he said. “Often it is possible for that suffering to turn us into something much more beautiful than we were before.”

His students say his teachings are eye-opening.

"I’m starting to think more and more that it’s not about what I’m doing, so much as why I’m doing the things I’m doing," Yale sophomore Laua Zeng said.

 “I’ve realized so far in this class, community is like one of the most important things to me, and to me I feel successful if I embody that value day to day,” Yale senior Abby Walker said.

That dovetails with another one of Volf's essential tenets, the notion that we grow our community and friendships.

“If one does it alone, chances of succeeding are much lesser than if one has friends because they make us honest with ourselves and they take us into the places which we otherwise would not have gone,” he said.