The thought of wasting your life is definitely scary, so it’s important to understand the difference between existing and living. One of the paradoxes of modern life is that as it becomes increasingly easier to fulfil our basic needs, a growing number of people feel their existence is boring, empty, or even depressing.

Existing means living in the past, or in your comfort zone; doing the same things every single day, on autopilot. Conversely, living means being aware of your potential, being curious, and going for the things that truly make you happy. Existence feels empty, while life is filled with enthusiasm and vitality.

Let’s have a look at the five key differences between existing and living. I hope you find these inspiring, and I hope they motivate you to live the best life possible — whatever that means to you. Let’s begin…

1. If you exist, you need distractions. If you live, you avoid them.

In today’s world, anyone can experience an endless stream of distractions. Every day, every hour. Most of us are bombarded with the latest ads and news, use their phone 24/7, and can’t eat food unless they are listening to music or watching videos at the same time.

The issue with that is that a life filled with distractions isn’t really life, but mere existence. Think: if you were truly happy and full of vitality, and if you had a purpose that made you fulfilled (more on this in a minute), would you really feel the need to experience distractions all the time? Or would you avoid them?

Chances are you would avoid them. Those who love life are too busy living it to the fullest to watch TV or check their social media profile non-stop. They value their time, and they don’t need to be distracted because there’s nothing to be distracted from.

2. If you exist, you feel empty. If you live, you have a purpose.

Those who suffer from depression tend to lose interest and pleasure in activities they used to enjoy; in the most severe cases, they may feel worthless, and life itself may appear to be meaningless and empty, to the point where one may consider suicide.

Thankfully, most people don’t suffer from depression (and those who do can be treated). However, if you imagine that existence is like a case of mild, long-term depression, you get a pretty good idea of the difference between living and existing.

Those who live have a purpose, something that makes them happy and fulfilled, something they believe in, and because of that, they are excited to wake up every day (okay, maybe not if they hear the alarm clock at 6am and have to drive to a job they hate; but the thought of living another day still makes them happy, not miserable).

3. If you exist, you’re stuck in the past. If you live, you’re in the here and now.

Breaking news: you are not your past. What you have been through so far, what happened to you up until this moment, does not define you. It’s not you. Each day you have the opportunity to be or become a new person; to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, “every moment is a fresh beginning”.

Way too many of us are stuck in the past, and believe they are destined to be the same person and do the exact same things over and over again. Typically, when that happens, people exist. Conversely, someone who is aware of their potential, and their ability to change, create, and grow, lives.

Those who live still have memories, and are still proud of what they have done in the past (including their mistakes), but are able to forget the past so they can live the present moment freely, and without any attachments to the previous version of themselves.

4. If you exist, you have low energy. If you live, you have high energy.

Different people have different levels of energy, naturally. There is no need to be hyperactive 24/7, and a small dose of laziness is usually healthy. And to be fair, the stresses of the modern world, including work, can make anyone feel exhausted from time to time.

However, in general, someone’s vitality will tell you whether that person is living life, or simply existing. The excitement that comes with enjoying life and having a clear purpose makes it almost impossible for anyone to feel apathetic or passive.

Being enthusiastic gives you more energy, and vice versa, which is why it’s vital that you take care of your overall health as well — sleep deeply every night, improve your diet and don’t overeat, and cultivate healthy habits (both in terms of physical and mental health). Existence is filled with apathy; life is filled with energy and vitality.

5. If you exist, new things scare you. If you live, you embrace them.

Are you terrified of trying out new things? It could be a sign that you are existing, but not living. Stagnation often leads to lack of motivation and loss of interest for life, so to truly live, you must be the kind of person who is curious and embraces change.

Those who exist have become used to being stuck in their comfort zone, and no longer seek excitement. Those who live understand that life is a series of changes, and that there’s always going to be an element of uncertainty in everything they do, but that uncertainty isn’t necessarily a negative thing; it can be used to create motivation.

Although you should be aware of what you dislike and what’s not for you, and avoid that — being open and curious is one of the easiest ways to have an interesting life; being too guarded, on the other hand, prevents you from living life to the fullest. So if you ever realize you’ve been living the same way for too long, ask yourself how you can change, what new things you would like to try, and what would make your life more exciting… and go for it.