Some people spend their entire life looking for purpose. In an ideal world, this information would be given to us when we’re born. The reality is, we don’t have a blueprint of how to live a purposeful life, and this has led many people to ask the question: How do I make my life meaningful? When we’re about to take our last breath, how can we guarantee that we’ll look back and think “that was a good life”? Today we’ll explore how we can uncover our purpose to live a more fulfilled life.
Finding our purpose is no easy task. Some of us are born into families where we are given all of the resources and opportunities possible. Our parents push us to try new things and when we find something we’re good at, they find the best teachers, coaches, or classes to help us become better. For many of us though, those opportunities weren’t available. Childhood was a time of survival, not exploring our passions.
Another challenge of finding our purpose is that it’s different for everyone. One person might find joy from writing a novel, while someone else might find joy from taking care of the poor. So, how can people with different backgrounds and interests find satisfaction and purpose in their lives?
There are three essential factors to consider when finding your purpose:
1. It must be fun – Our purpose must be something that brings us joy when we do it. A common myth about finding our purpose is that it must be something that we’re good at. This should be reframed to: Does this bring me joy? Have you ever had a friend who loved to sing, but wasn’t very good at it? Our society idolizes people who are good at things, but not the people who do things that bring them joy. It’s common for someone who is excellent at something, let’s say the piano, for example, to do it for 20 years, and then decide to quit one day. The thing that used to bring them joy stopped being fun, and once the joy left, the feeling of purpose left.
I have a friend who is 70 years old and has been a writer her whole life. She doesn’t make a ton of money from it, but she finds deep purpose and joy in her writing. And that is the key to finding and maintaining our purpose. We must ask ourselves: Does this thing makes me feel joy in my heart when I do it?
Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began to paint at the age of 78. When you begin a hobby at that age, it’s because it brings joy, and you can feel the joy in her work when you look at it. The key to finding our purpose, whether you’re 13 or 78, is to find something that is fun and makes you feel happy. And again, we don’t have to be the next Picasso or Yo-Yo Ma, but we do need to find something that sparks internal joy and does not need external validation. Your purpose should bring you joy, whether or not you’re the best at it, or whether or not anyone thinks you’re good at it.
2. We don’t care about the outcome – It’s human nature to seek validation from people. Even the most independent people still desire validation from others. But, it’s important that we hold our own self-validation in higher regard. When seeking our purpose in life, the key is to not find something that others think is impactful but to find something that YOU enjoy doing. For example, one of my dear friends works in hospice, meaning that she helps people die gracefully. She cleans up after them, bathes them, and changes their diapers. Some may say that the work she does is thankless, but she chooses to do this work because she finds a deep purpose in it. This work gives her deep satisfaction, even though she doesn’t get a lot of attention for it.
Instead of thinking, I must do something that will have a great outcome, reframe it to I must do something that brings me great joy, and no matter who knows about this thing I do, it still brings me deep purpose and satisfaction. What matters is not what the world thinks, but what your heart is calling you towards.
3. I lived well – We want to find something that causes us to look back on our lives when we’re taking our last breath and think “I lived well.” In addition to finding joy in our purpose and not caring about the outcome, it’s important to find something that we’ll look back at and say “I did things that I feel are good” or “I made the world a better place.”
So how do we decide what that purpose is? There are two main parts to answer this question:
1. Research your options – Some kids are given the opportunity to try new things growing up, while other children are not. This type of exploration does not only have to take place when you’re young but can be done at any age. You can explore the world, experiment with new hobbies, or talk to people about their interests at any point in your life. It’s important to gather as much information as possible about the things that are out there to see what piques your interest.
You may decide to paint, volunteer at a hospital, interview a national park ranger, take a creative writing course or work at a museum. You’re essentially giving yourself the opportunity to explore everything that’s out there, and becoming a good parent to yourself. As you try these new things, you should see if there is enjoyment or curiosity. This may signal to you that this is something you’d like to explore further. But, this exploratory phase does take time and commitment. In order to find our purpose, we must do the research. And during this research phase, it’s important to be open to the possibilities out there. You might end up enjoying something you’d never thought about before!
2. Go on retreat – A lot of people miss out on their purpose in life because they miss out on the opportunity to be still and listen to their hearts. It’s important that we carve out time to look inwards and answer the question ‘what would work for me?’ If you really want to know a person, you must spend time with that person. The same goes for us.
This sounds simple but is probably the hardest part of finding our purpose. I recommend finding a day where you can isolate yourself away from other people and your phone, somewhere in nature. Spend this time of solitude just sitting and listening. You can also practice this exercise for a weekend. Rent an Airbnb in nature, bring a journal, and leave the electronics at home. What you’ll find during these getaways is that the purpose will come forward and present itself. But without this silence, your purpose may never find its way to you, it needs you to listen. The biggest gift we can give ourselves is to listen to what’s happening inside of us.
Finding our purpose may seem daunting, but the path to finding our deeper meaning is rather simple. At the heart of these steps is taking the time to listen to ourselves. We must listen when we ask ourselves “does this bring me joy?” or “do I still enjoy doing this, no matter the outcome?” And as we begin to research, we can listen to our gut when something piques our interest. Last, we must listen to what comes forward when we spend time alone. This stillness and silence will lead us in the direction we need to go so that when we take our last breath we can say “I lived well.”
About the Happiness Podcast:
Do you ever wonder what it takes to lead a peaceful, happy life? Are you curious about the specific steps involved in a self-actualized, limitless life? Are you struggling with anxiety or depression? Or are you just plain tired and want some help? We explore all these concerns and more every week on the Happiness Podcast, which has been downloaded over 9 million times since its inception. Happiness does not happen by chance, but because we take specific actions in our lives to create it.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D., author of 13 books, TV show host, Psychology Today blogger, and corporate trainer, has been studying the actions it takes to reach the highest levels of human achievement for decades, and he wants to share what he knows with you. Come and explore, along with millions of others from the Happiness Podcast, Dr. Puff books and Psychology Today blog, private clients and corporate workshop attendees, the specific steps to take so that you can soar in your life.