Finding your purpose in living is more than a cliché: Learning how to live your life with purpose can lead to a sense of control, satisfaction, and general contentment. Feeling like what you do is worthwhile is, arguably, a significant key to a happy life. But what this means is different for each person. This article touches on a few helpful strategies for finding and steering your rudder in a sometimes turbulent sea.
Only around 25% of American adults say they have a clear sense of what makes their lives meaningful, according to one analysis in The New York Times. Another 40% either claim neutrality on the subject or say they don't.
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Why Do You Need a Sense of Purpose?
A 2010 study published in Applied Psychology found that individuals with high levels of eudemonic well-being—a sense of purpose and control control and a feeling like what you do is worthwhile—tend to live longer. Other researchers found that well-being might be protective for health maintenance. In that research, people with the strongest well-being were 30% less likely to die during the eight-and-a-half-year follow-up period.
There’s also research that links feeling as if you have a sense of purpose to positive health outcomes such as fewer strokes and heart attacks, better sleep, and a lower risk of dementia and disabilities.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Research and Personality found that individuals who feel a sense of purpose make more money than individuals who feel as though their work lacks meaning.
So the good news is, you don’t have to choose between having wealth and living a meaningful life. You might find that the more purpose you feel, the more money you’ll earn.
With all of those benefits, finding purpose and meaning in your life is clearly central to fulfillment--but it's likely to take time and patience.
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The process requires plenty of self-reflection, listening to others, and finding where your passions lie. These seven strategies can help you reveal or find your purpose so you can begin living a more meaningful life.
Donate Time, Money, or Talent
If you can cultivate just one helpful habit in your search for purpose, it would be helping others.
Researchers at Florida State University and Stanford found that happiness and meaningfulness overlapped somewhat but were different: Happiness was linked to the person being a taker before a giver, whereas meaningfulness went along with being more of a giver than a taker. The givers in relationships reported having a purposeful life more often than takers did.
Altruistic behaviors could include volunteering for a nonprofit organization, donating money to causes you care about, or simply helping out the people around you on a day-to-day basis.
Whether you decide to spend two Saturdays a month serving meals in a soup kitchen, or you volunteer to drive your elderly neighbor to the grocery store once a week, doing something kind for others can make you feel as though your life has meaning.
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Listen to Feedback
It can be hard to recognize the things you feel passionate about sometimes. After all, you probably like to do many different things and the things you love to do may have become so ingrained in your life that you don’t realize how important those things are.
Fortunately, other people might be able to give you some insight. There’s a good chance you’re already displaying your passion and purpose to those around you without even realizing it.
You might choose to reach out to people and ask what reminds them of you or what they think of when you enter their mind.Or you might take note when someone pays you a compliment or makes an observation about you. Write those observations down and look for patterns.
Whether people think of you as “a great entertainer” or they say “you have a passion for helping the elderly,” hearing others say what they notice about you might reinforce some of the passions you’ve already been engaging in.
Surround Yourself With Positive People
As the saying goes, you are the company you keep. What do you have in common with the people who you choose to be around?
Don’t think about co-workers or family members you feel obligated to see. Think about the people you choose to spend time with outside of work and outside of family functions.
The people you surround yourself with say something about you. If you’re surrounded by people who are making positive change, you might draw from their inspiration.
On the other hand, if the people around you are negative individuals who drag you down, you might want to make some changes. It’s hard to feel passionate and purposeful when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t interested in making positive contributions.
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Start Conversations With New People
It’s easy to browse social media while you’re alone on the subway or sitting at a bar waiting for a friend. Resist that urge. Instead, take the time to talk to the people around you.
Ask them if they are working on any projects or what they like to do for fun. Talk to them about organizations with which they are involved or if they like to donate to any particular cause.
Even though striking up conversations with strangers may feel awkward at first, talking to people outside of your immediate social circle can open your eyes to activities, causes or career opportunities that you never even knew existed.
You might discover new activities to explore or different places to visit. And those activities might be key to helping you find your purpose.
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Explore Your Interests
Is there a topic that you are regularly talking about in a Facebook status update or in a Tweet? Are you regularly sharing articles about climate change or refugees?
Are there pictures on Instagram of you engaging in a particular activity over and over, such as gardening or performing?
Consider the conversations you enjoy holding with people the most when you’re meeting face-to-face. Do you like talking about history? Or do you prefer sharing the latest money-saving tips you discovered?
The things you like to talk about and the things you enjoy sharing on social media may reveal the things that give you purpose in life.
Consider Injustices That Bother You
Many people have their pet causes or passion projects that surround an injustice in the world. Is there anything that makes you so deeply unhappy to think about that it bothers you to the core?
It might be animal welfare, a particular civil rights issue or childhood obesity organizations. Perhaps the idea of senior citizens spending the holidays alone makes you weepy or you think that substance abusers need more rehabilitation opportunities—the organizations are out there, and they need your help.
You don’t necessarily have to engage in your purpose full-time. You might find your career gives you the ability to afford to help a cause you feel passionate about. Or, you might find that you are able to donate time—as opposed to money—to give to a cause that you believe in.
Discover What You Love to Do
On the other end of the spectrum, simply thinking about what you truly love to do can help you find your purpose as well.
Do you absolutely love musical theater? Your skills might be best put to use in a way that brings live performances to children who can benefit from exposure to the arts.
Is analyzing data something that you actually find fun? Any number of groups could find that skill to be an invaluable asset.
Consider what type of skills, talents, and passions you bring to the table. Then, brainstorm how you might turn your passion into something meaningful to you.
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How Do You Know You've Found Your Purpose?
Like the notion of purpose itself, the answer to that is subjective--and there are as many signs that someone's found their purpose as there are people.
Perhaps you feel fully connected to the universe and that you know your place in it. Maybe you've found your meaning in religion. Or you sense a strong connection with others. The feeling might arise from activities that benefit others, such as volunteering.
Ultimately, you've likely found your purpose if you've stopped asking whether you have.
A Word From Verywell
Finding your purpose isn’t something you can do in a few days, weeks, or months. It can be a lifelong journey, and you must do it only one step at a time.
You also might find that your purpose changes over time. Perhaps you liked working with animals in your youth, but now you want to join forces with a cause that fights human trafficking. Or, maybe you want to do both, being among the lucky who find more than one purpose to drive their lives.
Keep in mind your purpose doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change what you’re doing already. If you cut hair, you might decide your purpose in life is to help others feel beautiful.
If you work as a school custodian, you might find your purpose is creating an environment that helps children learn.
Occasionally, consider pausing what you’re doing to reflect on your path: Is it taking you in the direction you want to go? If not, you can change course. Sometimes, that road to finding your purpose has a few curves, forks, and stop lights.
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