Find your Purpose to Create a Fulfilling Life
Even before the pandemic, more people had begun looking for their purpose in life. Amidst that pandemic, the desire to find a purpose only grew. Increasing numbers of people want to identify their purpose so that they can find fulfilment and achievement rather than just slogging away at daily tasks. Taking time to figure out what your real purpose in life is actually easier than you think and can bring a multitude of benefits.
Defining Purpose is the First Step
As we consider how to improve our lives, a key component is indeed figuring out our purpose in life. To do that, we need to understand what purpose actually is.
Purpose is an intention to accomplish something that is personally meaningful and that leads to productive engagement with an aspect of the world beyond oneself, The John Templeton Foundation found through its research. While not all goals contribute to purpose, a distinct concept of purpose emerges in the intersection of goals, personal meaningfulness, and a focus on making a difference in the world. That purpose may be working to preserve natural resources, changing the lives of others by launching a non-profit, researching disease, or teaching children to read.
While purpose and meaningfulness may seem similar, they are actually different. Purpose is what you do and meaning is the benefits it provides, professor emeritus of Trent University Paul Wong observed. Forbes senior contributor Nell Debevoise noted that although purpose and meaning are closely related, they are neither synonyms nor substitutes. Whereas meaning embodies significance, purpose is the reason for which something is done. And Harvard University similarly said that purpose refers to being directed towards a certain end, while meaning in life is related to significance.
Why Purpose is Important
Having a purpose for your life and career leads to life satisfaction, self esteem and personal fulfilment. That purpose can give a feeling of hope and optimism. Without a life purpose as the compass to guide you, said Chicken Soup for the Soul originator Jack Canfield, your goals and action plans may not ultimately fulfil you. It is thus essential to find your purpose in life.
Beyond fulfilment, it turns out that having a purpose in life brings a multitude of health benefits as well. A study led by Northwestern University professor emerita Arlene Taylor, for instance, showed that purpose in life was associated with better sleep quality. And having a purpose in life may even decrease your risk of dying early, according to a study by University of Michigan associate professor Celeste Leigh Pearce. People who didn’t have a strong life purpose, defined as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals”, were more than twice as likely to die than those who did. This association between purpose in life and the likelihood of death was true regardless of gender, race, education, or how rich or poor the survey participants were. Having a purpose in life appeared to have a greater impact on health than drinking, smoking or exercising regularly.
Having a sense of purpose in life may also play an important role in maintaining physical function among older adults, according to a study by a team at Harvard University with assistant professor Eric Kim.
How to Find your Purpose
While having a purpose delivers a multitude of benefits, many people struggle to find their purpose in life. Three seemingly simple yet surprisingly sophisticated practices can help you to find your purpose in life.
One is to figure out what brings joy to your life. Take about ten minutes to tell your “life story” to a couple friends and have them tell you what they see you as being most passionate about or what brightened your face, suggests Stanford University lecturer Leah Weiss You can also conduct a joy review, Canfield suggests, by taking about 30 minutes to make a list of the times you’ve felt the greatest joy in your life. You can use those insights from your friends and your experiences of what give you joy to identify a purpose that will bring satisfaction and fulfilment.
Jeremy Smith, the editor of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine, suggests identifying emotions and behaviours that lead to awe and gratitude in your life. Studies have shown that the experience of awe makes us feel connected to something larger than ourselves, he said and can provide the emotional foundation for a sense of purpose. Listening to what people thank you for can link into your own sense of gratitude. Knowing what types of activities creates a sense of awe and how you create a sense of awe for other people that they are grateful for can also help identify your purpose.
Another, Canfield suggests, is to explore the things you love and what comes easy to you by taking a few moments to write a description of what the world would look like if it were operating perfectly — according to you. Figure out everything people would do, be and have so that they can live their highest level. Then, combine your idea of what people would be, do and have into one statement and use it to figure out a purpose that enables you to work towards that vision.
You can combine the knowledge of what brings joy to your life, an understanding of what experiences create awe a sense of the world you want to create to establish your purpose. If your purpose is to help others, for example, you can become a mentor or a compassionate leader. If you’re a marketer, you can figure out how to educate people to use products or services you’re selling to enrich their life.
While it may take time, figuring out your purpose and using it to guide your life can provide a multitude of advantages.