If you’re a human, you’ve probably asked yourself, “what is my purpose in life?” It’s not an easy question to answer, but one that can have deep ramifications on our happiness and health.
It’s almost like asking “are you fulfilled?” Having a job, a family and a lot of friends… the stereotypical attributes of a great life don’t necessarily mean that one is content and happy. Many people sense that something is missing and almost feel bad about it, because they know they’ve got nothing material to complain about. That something that’s missing is their sense of purpose in life. It’s part of being human, we need to feel connected to something greater than ourselves and that we can have an impact.
“Finding your purpose in life” can sound cliché, but it’s a powerful motivator that can lead to a more intentional, fulfilling and happier existence.
What are the benefits of having purpose in life?
Unfortunately, most people live life without giving it meaning. In a 2018 analysis, only 25% of Americans participating cited having a clear sense of purpose, while 40% felt neutral about it or simply didn’t have one.Khullar D. Finding Purpose for a Good Life. But Also a Healthy One. The New York Times. Published January 1, 2018.
Research has shown that having a sense of purpose can impact our life expectancy, increase our overall health and reduce our risks of heart disease, disabilities and dementia.Kobau, R, Sniezek, J, Zack, M M, Lucas, RE, Burns, A. Well‐Being Assessment: An Evaluation of Well‐Being Scales for Public Health and Population Estimates of Well‐Being among US Adults. Applied … Continue readingMusich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2018;21(2):139–147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063
Having a purpose in life changes how we think and feel about the world and ourselves. For one, a sense of purpose makes us stronger psychologically. It is an important contributor to building our resilience in the face of adversity.
Because having meaning gives us perspective. We are thinking about things that are bigger than the events we are personally going through, whether it’s about helping other people or taking care of our environment. Furthermore, contributing to a cause that matters to us gives us a sense of accomplishment and of being worthwhile. It’s empowering to know that we can make a difference.
When something that’s free and without any side effects can have such positive impacts on our body and mind, then we might as well take the time to explore what having a purpose in life means to us!
4 ways to find your sense of purpose
Having a purpose in life is a very personal thing, that is different for each person. It can also change and evolve with our experiences and understanding of life.
You might already have a purpose in life without realizing it!
Finding your sense of purpose takes self-introspection, reflecting on your centers of interest, values and aspirations.
Fundamentally, having a sense of purpose goes beyond the self and opens us to the world, its nature and inhabitants. Here are a few tips to help you find your purpose in life:
Explore your values and passions
Although there’s an altruistic element to our sense of purpose, it can still be guided by what is important to us.
From the values that are meaningful to us, such as education, freedom, or spirituality, we can find ways to share, teach or give to others that are in accordance with what we believe in.
Similarly, we can use our passions to guide our sense of purpose. From reading to exercise, or even cooking and video games, any center of interest can be a tool for our sense of purpose. There’s always someone who can benefit from our knowledge or expertise on a topic.
Because it comes from what is deep within us, using our values and passions to guide our purpose in life can make us feel aligned with our core-self and give us a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction.
Reflect on your personal experiences
When you are trying to understand your sense of purpose it can be helpful to review past events that have impacted your life. From positive experiences such as personal achievements and milestones, or overcoming difficulties, to difficult and traumatic occurrences, there’s a lot we can draw from.
For example, someone might reflect on their childhood and find it important to help kids by volunteering their time at after-school activities or helping at an orphanage. Finding purpose from trauma, others might want to help victims of similar misfortune to offer them comfort and support.
When our purpose in life is inspired by our own experiences, it can also have a cathartic effect and help us heal old wounds.
Open yourself to others
Typically, one of the hardest questions at a job interview is “what are your strengths.” Because we tend to be more self-critical than self-admiring, we can find it hard to recognize the things that we are good at.
So if you’re unsure in what ways you can share your knowledge and strengths, reach out to people you trust. Ask them what are some things they would like you to teach them or what comes to mind when they think of you. You might be surprised by some of the answers and find it to be quite positive.
The objective of this conversation is to see aspects of ourselves that we lack perspective to see. However, for some of us, this can also be quite humbling or awkward. This isn’t about putting you in a vulnerable position, so only ask people you feel comfortable with. Look at it as a way to learn about yourself, but don’t take this exercise too seriously either.
Find your community
Sharing a sense of purpose with a group of people is invigorating and motivating. Being able to discuss, make plans and develop projects with others is especially enriching. Because we are working together towards a common objective, we can also develop new friendships and learn from each other.
Joining a volunteer group is a straightforward way to become part of a community. Look at what’s happening in your neighborhood, temple or local charities for causes that resonate with you.
Giving time or effort to the community can be done in many ways. It can require being there and doing the work, such as participating at a soup kitchen, helping the elderly with their shopping, or cleaning up trash from the park. It can also be about giving reassurance and care simply by being there for people who need to be heard and seen.
To nourish your purpose in life, choose the activities that enliven and enlighten you to feed your true-self.
- Having a purpose in life can give you a sense of accomplishment and empowerment;
- There is a number of health benefit, both physical and psychological derived from having a sense of purpose;
- To find our sense of purpose, it’s helpful to reflect on the things that are meaningful to us. From our values and our passions, to personal experiences;
- Asking others about our strengths and how we can be helpful can be also be insightful and help us see aspects of ourselves that we didn’t take the time to appreciate;
- Being part of a community of like minded people working towards a goal can even deepen our sense of purpose and lead to new friendships.
|1||Khullar D. Finding Purpose for a Good Life. But Also a Healthy One. The New York Times. Published January 1, 2018.|
|2||Kobau, R, Sniezek, J, Zack, M M, Lucas, RE, Burns, A. Well‐Being Assessment: An Evaluation of Well‐Being Scales for Public Health and Population Estimates of Well‐Being among US Adults. Applied Psychology: 2010: 2: 272-297. doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01035.x|
|3||Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2018;21(2):139–147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063|
*Be mindful about your health. This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.