What Does Having Purpose in Life Mean?
Purpose in life is “having goals, a sense of direction and a feeling that there is meaning to present and past life,” as defined by Population Health Management. But this enlightenment does not happen overnight. It’s a journey with many dead ends before you find what you didn’t know you were looking for.
Why is it Important to Find Your Purpose in Life?
The importance of finding your purpose prevails throughout life but is particularly evident as we age. Studies have shown a strong link between purpose in life and better health outcomes. But it is not only helpful for aging gracefully. A New York Times article references a study that followed over 6,000 people for 14 years. Researchers found that “having purpose was protective across the lifespan for people in their 20s as well as those in their 70s.” Having purpose also gives you resilience, which can lead to success in many areas.
Things to Consider When Trying to Find Your Purpose
1. Is Happiness an End in Itself or a Consequence of Purpose?
When you are born into a loving family, you may repeatedly hear your parents tell you, “I just want you to be happy.” As endearing as that sounds, some people question if that is a reasonable or even attainable goal. So many of us go through life searching for happiness and feeling like a failure when we don’t find it.
It explains why we take jobs we don’t want, to earn money that never seems like enough, to accumulate stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like. It could be that happiness is not the end goal but rather a bonus you receive when you uncover something more meaningful.
2. Accumulating Wealth May Make You Happy But Not Give You Purpose
As Marcus has said, “Money is a byproduct, not the purpose.” You may be a happy person, yet there is a difference between being happy and having meaning in your life. The Journal of Positive Psychology summarizes survey results indicating that satisfying what you need and what you want may increase happiness but does not impact meaningfulness. Happiness is mostly about the present and your role as a taker. Meaningfulness integrates the past, present and future, where you act more as a giver.
3. What Would You Do for Free?
For a moment, put aside the need to make a living or any other obligations, and think about how you would want to spend your time. Dig deep and ask yourself why. Look beyond dreams of lying on the beach with an island cocktail, and explore what you want to create, contribute or build that would leave you internally satisfied at the end of the day. Think about what makes you feel good within your soul, and let that serve as your guiding light to identify what has meaning for you.
Benefits of Finding Your Purpose
1. Finding Your Purpose Contributes to Well-Being
If you have a purpose in life, it is more likely you will take care of yourself by learning and practicing good health behaviors like preventive health visits, exercise, nutritious eating and sleeping well. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that “a growing body of literature suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in life leads to improvements in both physical and mental health and enhances overall quality of life.”
2. Having a Purpose Lends Itself to a Heightened Focus on Things That Matter
You may be thinking that sense of purpose sounds like a self-indulgent, otherworldly concept. But it does have a practical application. The sense of well-being you derive helps you make better decisions regarding your finances, health, career and relationships. Decisions are more likely to be made with a long range of sight rather than on impulse or reflex for short-term gratification.
3. Awareness of Your Purpose in Life is a Contributing Factor to Success
A Danish survey, published in the National Library of Medicine, questioned 10,000 people about their quality of life and included questions about how happy they were and if their needs were fulfilled. The pilot studies showed that by grasping the basic concepts of quality of life, people perceive their lives as more meaningful and that this philosophy can help people assume greater responsibility for their own existence. In a follow-up article, the researchers concluded that “when many people experience not having success, it is because they are not conscious about their original purpose or the deepest meaning of their lives.”
Tips to Help You Find Your Purpose in Life
1. Perform Acts of Kindness
When exploring opportunities to embrace something larger than yourself, don’t be overwhelmed by thinking you have to save the whole world in a day. Random acts of kindness can be small and rewarding, and they add up over time.
2. Reach Out to Positive Role Models
Reach out to people you admire and long to emulate for inspiration. Look beyond financial success, and pick one or two people who have demonstrated that they found their purpose.
As Marcus has said, “Surround yourself with good people.” It may be a mentor, teacher or family member. Initiate a conversation to understand their source of fulfillment and discovery process. Talking to positive-minded people can help you gain insight and learn about opportunities to locate your own path toward purpose in life.
3. Apply Your Talents to Help Make Life Better for Others
If there is something going on in the world, your community, school or professional life, that gets under your skin, think about what talent you have to support organizations that work to make these conditions better. Maybe you see animals treated poorly, students who need tutoring or coworkers who would benefit from mentoring. Chances are that others want to help too, and you can join or form a group to address the issue. This doesn’t mean you need to be entrenched in the battleground. If you excel in graphic design, newsletter design or technology, be aware that many organizations need back-shop support too. Maybe you can get some ideas by reviewing lists of top charities in your area.
Your Path to Fulfillment
If you work in a field like nonprofit, emergency care or social work, you may encounter purpose in your work every day. Or maybe your sense of purpose comes from helping neighbors or raising a family. Whatever your passion, finding your purpose can come in many forms and can mean different things for different people. When you find that one thing that truly stirs your soul and gives your life a sense of direction, you’ll know you’re on the path to fulfillment.
- What are some things you’ve tried to help yourself try and find purpose?
- What tips listed above do you feel will help you the most?
Musich, S., Wang, S.S., Kraemer, S., Hawkins, K. & Wicker, E. (2018). Purpose in life and positive health outcomes among older adults [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/pop.2017.0063
Musich, S., Wang, S.S., Kraemer, S., Hawkins, K. & Wicker, E. (2018, April 1). Purpose in life and positive health outcomes among older adults. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/pop.2017.0063
Khullar, D. (2018, January 1). Finding purpose for a good life. But also a healthy one. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/upshot/finding-purpose-for-a-good-life-but-also-a-healthy-one.html
Baumeister, R.F., Vohs, K.D., Aaker, J.L. & Garbinsky, E.N. (2013, August 20). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2013.830764?scroll=top&needAccess=true&
Alimujiang, A., Wiensch, A., Boss, J., Fleischer, N.L., Mondul, A.M., McLean, K., Mukherjee, B. & Pearce, C.L. (2019, May 3). Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31125099/
Ventegodt, S., Andersen, N.J. & Merrick, J. (2003, December 1). Quality of life philosophy I. Quality of life, happiness, and meaning in life. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14646011/
Ventegodt, S., Andersen, N.J. & Merrick, J. (2003, December 1). Quality of life philosophy VI. The concepts. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14646016/
Barrett, W. (2019). America’s top charities 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/lists/top-charities/#69199b065f50
Ventegodt, S., Jørgen Andersen, N., & Merrick, J. (2003, December 1). Quality of life philosophy VI. The concepts. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14646016/