In a world where people often find themselves adrift, the concept of “finding your purpose” may seem trite or cliché. However, recent studies have shown that having a sense of purpose can bring about a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. But what exactly is purpose, why is it important, and how can individuals discover their own?
Purpose is closely intertwined with both “goals” and “meaning,” although it is distinct from both. Goals are specific, actionable objectives such as graduating, securing a job, or losing weight. On the other hand, meaning is a broader, subjective response that stems from personal significance. It may arise from activities like listening to music, watching a breathtaking sunset, or engaging in volunteer work.
Purpose, in contrast, is less tangible. It can be described as a guiding principle that frames our sense of meaning and our goals.
In today’s society, there is often an excessive focus on setting and achieving individual goals, while meaningful connections with others, crucial for finding purpose in life, are overlooked. With longer working hours, goals tend to revolve around work, leaving little time for personal pursuits. Consequently, even when individuals achieve their goals, a diminished sense of purpose can linger if their work does not align with their true purpose.
Young people, in particular, face a constant barrage of messages pressuring them to achieve more, including the need to start side businesses and aspire to the unattainable lives of social media stars.
Although the prevailing “hustle culture” that glorifies relentless work as the only path to success may hinder the quest for purpose, embracing new interests, hobbies, or even a second job driven by purpose can counterbalance the pressures and burnout associated with modern life.
The Benefits of Purpose Throughout our lives, our roles undergo transformations. We form new friendships, marry, become parents, and experience evolving expectations in the workplace. When our identities become too closely intertwined with any of these roles, we can feel lost or uneasy when changes occur.
Research suggests that having a sense of purpose can help us find balance, avoiding reactive emotional swings. Purpose equips us with greater resilience to tolerate stress and bounce back from adversities.
In the context of healthcare, nurses who possess a sense of purpose are better equipped to navigate the intense emotions associated with their profession. This sense of purpose allows them to remain empathetic without depleting their emotional resources.
Individuals who report having a sense of purpose enjoy greater job satisfaction, financial success, and overall life contentment. Purpose is also associated with a stronger sense of identity and improved mental well-being.
Furthermore, having a sense of purpose is correlated with better physical health, reducing the risk of stroke, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. These health benefits likely stem from the adoption of healthy practices such as increased physical activity and nurturing social connections. By mitigating loneliness, purpose plays a pivotal role in maintaining good physical health.
The Quest for Purpose As a psychologist and psychotherapist, I have observed that the pursuit of purpose and meaning often leads individuals to seek therapy, even if they are initially unaware of the underlying cause. Even those who are outwardly successful in their careers and relationships may experience a profound sense of unsettlement without understanding the root cause. Frequently, therapy sessions reveal a deep-seated feeling of disconnection or a lack of purpose.
Tips for Discovering Your Purpose
- Dedicate time to journaling: Take a moment to write down your thoughts and emotions. Journaling not only helps organize your mind but also enhances overall well-being. By documenting experiences that evoke happiness, anger, or sadness, you may uncover topics that hold significant meaning for you. Often, purposes align with social justice causes, such as addressing poverty, increasing educational access, combating obesity, or challenging racism.
- Identify your values: Understanding your core values can provide focus when contemplating your purpose and the actions necessary to support it. For instance, if you strongly care about the climate crisis but prioritize avoiding social disruption, you might be reluctant to engage in protests. In such cases, explore alternative ways to align with your purpose, such as recycling more or reducing your carbon footprint.
- Pursue your passion: What activities bring you joy? If you love dancing and aspire to combat poverty, consider ways to incorporate your passion by teaching dance to disadvantaged children. Similarly, if reading is your passion, explore opportunities to apply it, such as reading to patients in hospitals or supporting children with their literacy skills in schools.
- Engage with your community: Purpose extends beyond oneself. Seek ways to merge your interests with giving back to society. Volunteering not only fosters a sense of well-being and purpose but also connects you with others who share similar values.
It’s important to remember that purpose is not a fixed destination to be achieved at a particular point in time. Rather, it is an ongoing journey throughout one’s life. Therefore, take the time to reconnect with yourself, as finding your purpose requires patience and self-reflection.
By embracing the power of purpose, individuals can unlock the key to a more fulfilling and meaningful life. So, embark on the journey to discover your purpose and let it guide you towards a brighter tomorrow.