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How to Live a Good Life: Jonathan Fields’ Advice for Creating Meaningful Work

By Brendon Schrader

Here at Antenna, one of our goals is helping people do the work they love. Meaningful work can have positive effects well beyond the office. I know that I’m a happier parent, spouse, friend, and boss when I’m engaged in work I really care about.

The idea of meaningful work and how we can create it is important to me, so I was excited to see the topic of my friend Jonathan Fields’ book, “How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science and Practical Wisdom.” A serial entrepreneur and growth strategist, Jonathan is a leader in helping people live more meaningful lives, and he’s full of ideas on how people can start doing so right now.

I interviewed Jonathan about why finding meaning is so important for marketers: “You often get so deep into strategy and tactics that sometimes you forget to reconnect with your ‘why,’ ” he says. He recommends marketers periodically ask themselves “Why is this meaningful? Who are we serving and why does it matter?” Doing so can get you out of the data and details and help you find the deeper meaning of the work you do.

He has several tips for making that happen. Here’s what we talked about.

Refill Your ‘Buckets’

Jonathan talks in his book about how each person has three “Good Life Buckets” and that refilling them is key to a meaningful life. The buckets are:

  • Vitality, the state of your mind and body.

  • Connection, the state of your relationships, including friends, family and work.

  • Contribution, the work you do, which is not always the work you get paid to do, he says.

It’s important to remember that “filling” these buckets is a process, not an end point to achieve, Jonathan says. “It’s a daily practice. When you wake up in the morning, take a moment to scale from 1 to 10 how full each bucket is,” he says. “Then you can map out your day in a way that fills those buckets.”

If you feel like you’re a little low on connection, for example, Jonathan recommends “hitting pause” to have a short, real-life conversation with someone. Feeling low on vitality could be a signal to focus on eating a good lunch or taking a walk. Even little choices and shifts can make a difference that adds up throughout the day.

Be Intentional

While people may focus on filling all the buckets all the time, he says, “we all live in the real world, and that pendulum is never hovering in the center.” Even the highest performers in business, athletics and art don’t give 100 percent of themselves 100 percent of the time. “Sometimes you may have to pull energy from other buckets,” he says. If you’re feeling low on contribution, for example, you may throw yourself into meaningful work that makes you feel more fulfilled.

Eventually, however, you will have to address shortages, Jonathan says. “You can’t let one bucket get all the way to the bottom — at some point, you have to give some love to the other parts of your life,” he says.

One idea that can help is the understanding that happiness is not something to achieve, and that actively pursuing it can actually make you more unhappy. Jonathan says it’s important to give ourselves a break if we aren’t giddily happy at all times — happiness looks different for different people, and striving for balance is likely to give you the happiness that works for you.

Embrace Relationships and Mindfulness

“People fiercely struggle with saying ‘no,’ ” especially at work, Jonathan says. Many are afraid that if they don’t say “yes,” opportunities might not come their way again, or people might not want to work with them. They end up saying “yes” to things that aren’t meaningful to them, that don’t fill up their buckets, and that take away their energy for doing things that really do matter.”

To counter this overwhelm at work, Jonathan encourages managers to foster relationships. “Meaningful friends at work make processes better and increase loyalty, creativity, retention, and so on,” he says. Even cultivating friendships between managers and direct reports can help. “It’s complex — people think that if you’re friends with your manager or someone you manage, you can’t have the hard conversations. But I think that’s a bit of a cop-out. It’s OK to a have friendships where the understanding is that when there needs to be an honest conversation, it has to happen,” he says.

In the longer term, Jonathan is a big advocate of mindfulness practice. “One of the biggest problems in the workplace is we are very mindless,” he says. “We’re on autopilot instead of being deliberate and intentional in crafting our day.” He recommends that people set aside 10 minutes or so to close the door, put on headphones and be mindful. Managers can help foster this by institutionalizing the practice. “It changes how people relate and work together,” he says.

To read the first chapter of Jonathan’s book, click here.

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Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.