One of the toughest facets to figure out about yourself is your purpose in life. You may ask yourself repeatedly, “why am I here?” or “how can I feel more fulfilled?” Answering these existential questions is often not as easy as it sounds, but you can take some steps to soften the process.
Simply put, your purpose in life is your “why.” It is not typically an end goal or a final destination, but rather the journey as a whole. Your purpose encompasses what motivates and guides you through life while simultaneously bringing you a sense of joy, gratification, and achievement.
For centuries, the “purpose” or “meaning” of life has been pondered by philosophers all over the globe. Aristotle theorized the human function of rational activity, Aquinas conjured up the beatific vision, and Kant speculated on the highest good. Some of the world’s religions also believe each person is born with a higher purpose and it is our mission in life to find it. Purpose is defined differently depending on which culture you consult, but the main idea is: your purpose is yours alone.
One popular concept recently popularized in the West is the Japanese notion of “ikigai,” which means “to follow your joy.” The idea of ikigai is to blend your purpose with what makes you happy and what the world needs, as well as find what you are good at and pair it with what you can be paid for.
Finding your purpose in life is not just a philosophical debate, however—it can have a vastly positive influence on your health too. One study found that people who have high levels of eudemonic wellbeing—which involves having a sense of purpose, a sense of control, and a feeling that their endeavors are worthwhile—tend to live longer.
Other research has shown that people who pursue a purposeful existence may experience other health gains such as:
- Fewer strokes and heart attacks
- Better sleep
- Lower risk of dementia
- Reduced disabilities
- Decreased mental health issues
Surprisingly enough, only 1/4 of Americans report feeling as though they have figured out their purpose in life. If you are in the category of the remaining ¾, read on to discover various ways you can identify and begin living a purpose that fits you.
- Be of service to those in need.
This may be overstated when discussing the concept of purpose, but a good reason exists for it. Humans are by nature social beings. Helping others is an excellent way to begin your new path to finding purpose. In psychological terms, you elicit what is called a prosociality response, which means that when you help others by giving back, you also help yourself. One of the ways you help yourself is by kindling that sense of purpose.
- Explore your interests and passions.
If you aren’t quite sure where to begin, start with the hobbies you already enjoy and expand from there. Investigate what sparks your curiosity, delve into your skill sets, think about what talents you have, and meditate on your personal life experiences. Much of the time, a purpose can be born out of these small, frequently overlooked aspects of your life.
- Donate your time, money, or talents.
Something about the art of giving stirs within many people a great feeling of fulfillment. When you donate, in whatever form it may be, you are providing your gifts for a greater good, which can then lead you to feel you are doing something worthwhile and meaningful. Continuing to donate time, money, or talent to a cause you believe in can be an astonishingly quick way to feel a sense of purpose. Altruistic behavior such as volunteering has been found to foster purpose.
- Read, read, read.
Believe it or not, deepening your knowledge of certain issues and causes can inspire you to care more about them, gradually leading to them becoming part of your purpose. Reading has the potential to ignite the fire within yourself to pitch in with various movements. Learning as much as you can about topics you care about can strengthen your empathy and critical thinking skills, allowing you to contemplate your purpose through a deeper, more poignant lens.
- Connect with a community.
Surround yourself with others seeking out a meaningful life or who have similar passions as your own. Reach out to meet them, learn about their beliefs and experiences, and see how you can get involved in the causes you care about within a group of people also taking action. This is a great method of finding a mentor in your area of interest as well. Mentors are wonderful for helping guide you on your path to purpose as they have walked that path themselves (and likely still do—with a lot of useful knowledge).
- Develop a growth mindset.
If you want to dedicate yourself to finding purpose, remain steadfast in your pursuit. Establishing a growth mindset allows you to embrace challenges as opportunities, as well as accept much-needed feedback as you evolve and embark on your new journey. Also within this realm is the importance of growing your gratitude and altruism. Kendall Bronk, a leading expert on purpose, explained that people who are able to count their blessings are more likely to “contribute to the world beyond themselves.” Similarly, Dr. Christina Karns found that altruism and gratitude are neurologically linked in the brain. These traits have a tremendous effect on discovering your purpose because they increase your generosity, desire to give, and acts of kindness—all of which activate your sense of purpose.
- Let your voice be heard.
Telling your story is powerful. Share with others the obstacles you have faced as well as the questions and thoughts that have come to your mind while traversing your path to purpose. Connecting with people who have endured similar life challenges can help propel you forward in your search for a purpose. Likewise, writing it all out can help you establish more meaning in your life as well. Journaling as you contemplate the purpose of your life can be a valuable way to track what does and does not resonate with you. It can also help you notice the progress you’ve made any time you look back.
- Ask yourself the hard (and insightful) questions.
You must persevere through the difficult parts of the process if you wish to unearth your life’s purpose. As mentioned in the opening of this blog post, you may have questions about how to find your purpose. These kinds of questions are worthy and necessary to dig deeper into yourself. They can be scary, comforting, fascinating, or all of the above. A few questions you may want to ask (or even journal about) could be:
- “What am I willing to struggle for?”
- “What would make my 10-year-old self proud?”
- “If I knew I would die tomorrow, what would I want to be remembered for?”
- “How can I make a difference in the world?”
- “What issues or causes do I hold close to my heart?”
- “If I didn’t have a job, how would I want to fill my extra time?”
No matter which path you take to finding your purpose, know that you have the power to make it uniquely yours. Behind every successful person is a clear sense of purpose, so start your journey today. With time, you will look back on this moment and realize just how impactful it was to finally figure out your purpose in life.