Much like authenticity, covered in a recent blog post, and visioning, a few weeks before that, purpose is a quasi-indescribable thing we’re to attend to if we want to live our happiest, healthiest, and most fulfilled lives. It’s a bit of a loaded, anxiety-inducing word for a lot of people. Thinking about how to find your life purpose seems enormous and amorphous. It can be overwhelming. It also feels loaded with judgment. What if your purpose doesn’t seem purposeful enough? If we stop mind reading about what purpose should be, maybe we can strip it down to something useful and meaningful.

Having a sense of purpose has been linked to a reduced risk of physical and mental health issues. It has been associated with a lower risk of stroke, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study of close to 13,000 people over 50 concluded that people with the highest purpose had a reduced risk of mortality, a reduced risk of sleep problems, higher optimism, reduced risk of depression and lower loneliness than those with “lower purpose”. The study defined purpose as the extent that people see their lives as having meaning, a sense of direction, and goals.  Seems like it might be worth spending a little time trying to demystify and find your life purpose.

Beyond Ourselves

First we need to better understand what it is we’re actually seeking. Purpose is related to goals and meaning but not quite the same as either. Goals are actionable aims. Meaning happens when we ascribe personal significance to something. Goals and meaning are very personal. Purpose suggests something meaningful to us that directs our goals. It gets us up in the morning. It also seems like it must be tied, to some extent, to the world beyond ourselves.

The sense that purpose is something beyond the self is a big part of the reason why having purpose benefits mental health. At the same time, there’s a level of care, importance and responsibility that comes with thinking of others and that can cause pressure. And pressure causes stress, which is not good for our health. Maybe we’re overthinking and focusing a little too much on the concept of life purpose when we really ought to be considering the more simplified purpose, intention, and values that fuel us.

It’s great that some people get up in the morning propelled by a motivation to save the planet, be an instrument of world peace, or abolish corrupt systems. But those intentions don’t motivate everyone the same way. And they don’t have to. When you set out to find your purpose in life, you’d do well to remember that “higher purpose” is not part of the directive. An honorable purpose does not have to be a so-called higher purpose. Purpose becomes honorable and meaningful if we manage to do things – some things – that feel important to us.

We may like to think we’re important enough to have a unique reason for existing, yet we might do better to accept the possibility that we’re not that special. If we define honorable purpose too narrowly, we may hyper-focus on an outcome. We may miss the point that living purposefully is what really matters. We’re fortunate that some people identify the big ticket items as their purpose but it’s not a competition. There are a lot of ways to make your existence matter and make the world a better place. Putting your best self out there is one of those ways.

Living a Purposeful and Honorable Life

Living purposefully can look like doing the best we can each and every day. Extra points if you perform random acts of kindness whenever possible. It’s easy to get a little lost by the prospect of purpose being tied to something beyond yourself but that’s precisely why it matters so much. Bear in mind that “beyond yourself” includes family, friends, and colleagues. If you consider your purpose in life to be leaving the world better than you found it and you do your best each day to get out of bed, get to work or school, learn something, do something, smile at someone, well then, you’ve done something that arguably makes the world a little better. Haven’t you? 

Living a purposeful life is, perhaps, more digestible than living out or up to your life purpose. The latter feels onerous and, again, prone to judgment. It also seems to suggest it’s been predetermined. Whereas the former seems more related to meaning, mindfulness, self awareness, and maybe even self improvement. It also seems to be tied to your values, your dreams, your freedom to choose. Your purpose is evident in the choices you make and the values you hold.

Having purpose can focus, ground, and support you. Living purposefully has an element of supporting others. Find your purpose by journaling to organize your thoughts, listing your values, and identifying your passion. Then give some thought to the fact that you are part of a vast world that is better when you put your thoughts, values, and passion into actions that serve someone beyond yourself.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Something to try: Volunteer. Volunteering is a way to remember that the world is bigger than you and needs you. It can help you feel a sense of purpose and appreciate that you have something to contribute that matters. Check out VolunteerMatch if you’re looking for ideas.

Coaching Can Help

If you are struggling to find your life purpose, coaching can help. Let’s jump on a 15-minute call (no charge!) so we can explore the possibility of working together. You can schedule the call here.

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2 Comments

  1. It took going through a divorce for me to figure out what my purpose in life was, and that was to be the best dad I could possibly be, to get my kids through each day and to make sure that they knew how much they meant to me. It was a slog at times–we all have days where we doubt ourselves, and that is especially true when one goes through a divorce. However, at least in my case, making sure that I was there for my kids was what gave my life meaning. It still does.

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