For many people, finding a purpose is one of the great goals in life. Whether it’s family, religion, or whatever gets you up in the morning, your purpose gives you a sense of direction. What many people don’t realize is that having a sense of purpose has more tangible effects on our lives. There are actually a multitude of health benefits, both physical and mental. These benefits are far reaching and can change your life for the better. Join us for a bit of soul-searching as we explore finding purpose in our lives and why it’s a worthwhile journey for us all!
What is a Life Purpose?
A life purpose is often vague, which is partially why it can be so difficult to nail one down for yourself. Across the studies we’ll reference, there’s a general understanding that a life’s purpose is an aim or desire that is the primary driver behind your passions and goals. Others consider it to be the goals themselves. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be defining your purpose as the guiding motivation of your life.
It’s important to note that your purpose is not your sole motivation, but your primary one.
As far as life purposes go, family is far and away the most popular choice, as told by a 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center. In fact, when questioned, 69 percent of respondents believed that family makes life meaningful — followed by careers (34 percent), money (23 percent), and faith and spirituality (20 percent). These passions aren’t mutually exclusive, either. For this reason, it’s important to note that your purpose is not your sole motivation, but your primary one.
For example, you may call providing for and nurturing your family as your purpose in life, but that doesn’t mean you don’t find religion or your job important, either. The difference is that your purpose helps define the meaningfulness to you. Your career is important because it allows you to provide for your family. Your favorite sports team is important because cheering for them is something you share with your family. This is true of non-family purposes, as well. Say your life’s purpose is to simply be a good person. Religion may be important to you because you view it as a pathway to that. Your purpose is the guiding reason for your passions.
The Health Benefits of a Life’s Purpose
Clearly, there is a benefit to having a purpose in your life, since it can add guidance and clarity to each day. Surprisingly, there’s also a well-supported body of evidence that feeling like you have a purpose is good for your health.
Research shows that people who feel they have a purpose experience less sleep disturbance and generally sleep better later in life. They’re also less likely to suffer a heart attack and may mediate stress while recovering from negative events more quickly. Additional studies found that people with a strong sense of purpose were less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Furthermore, seniors who feel they have a purpose are more likely to use preventative services and move more, both of which can keep you healthier. Then, you have to consider the potential health benefits of whatever your purpose may be, whether it’s volunteering or your fandom of a team.
If you have a stronger sense of purpose, you’re more likely to outlive your peers without one.
Of all the benefits of having a purpose, though, the big one is that there’s a significant amount of evidence that a sense of purpose helps you live longer. This has been found among numerous studies over the last two decades. Whether you’re a senior living in a retirement community or a mix of respondents, if you have a stronger sense of purpose, you’re more likely to outlive your peers without one. These results were found across demographics, through race, gender, education level, and finances. This is pretty remarkable but makes sense when you consider the multitude of both the mental and physical benefits that come along with having a purpose.
Finding Your Purpose
It’s all well and good to know why you should find a purpose but doesn’t do much for you if you currently haven’t identified one. That’s totally understandable. There isn’t really a perfect guidebook for it because each person’s search for meaning is different and can even change throughout a person’s life. Without a well-traveled path for finding your purpose, your main motivation in life can be difficult to find. But that’s also what makes your purpose special, since it is specific to you and your life. So, think of your search as less of a chore and like finding a missing puzzle piece that is needed for the whole picture to be complete, and more like a journey of self-discovery. Your purpose is there, and it always has been, guiding your motivations. You just need to uncover it.
So, how do we go about finding our purpose, our to be? The first step will be to have some introspection to define what your motivation is. Ask yourself the important what and why questions, like:
- If nothing was stopping me, what would I do with my time?
- Why would I spend my time like that?
- Who would I spend my time with?
These questions can cut to the core of your motivation. The “what” question can tell you what activities you find the greatest meaning in and tees up the next question. The “why” question goes deeper into defining what your purpose is. Finally, the who tells you the people you value and those that add meaning to your life. For example, let’s say your answer to what was “to travel the world.” In this case, the why may be “because I enjoy new experiences.” This would reveal you find meaning in exploration or adventure. Depending on the “who” answer, the example could change from “I want to travel to experience new things,” to “I want to travel with my family to experience new things with them.” Suddenly, the travel is a passion that’s informed by your purpose, which sharing that passion with your loved ones.
What If You Change Your Mind?
Answering a few questions isn’t the end of your search for meaning, however. Something may sound good on paper, but once you actually try it out, it may not be as appealing. That trip around the world with your family may turn into a trip with just your spouse next time. Just because something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to doesn’t mean it was bad. Now’s the time to ask yourself, “Why didn’t I enjoy that like I thought I would?”
Something may sound good on paper, but once you actually try it out, it may not be as appealing.
The reasons you didn’t like something are as valuable as why you really loved it. In this way, trying out your passion wasn’t a failure; it was learning something new about yourself. This is why you shouldn’t be afraid to test your passions or to try things you never thought of previously. Each “failure” is just another step toward finding your purpose in life.
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Many people consider having a purpose in life to almost be akin to having a destiny — one single thing you are meant to do. In reality, your purpose comes from within. It’s your driving passion and reason that defines many of your actions. This sense can act as a guiding light when things are tough and help you shrug off the little stresses in life, since you know what truly matters to you. When you consider how healthy living a purposeful life is, this journey of self-discovery can be all the more valid and worthwhile.