Purpose in life matters
A life with purpose is a happier life. Positive psychology looks at what how people flourish and asks what makes life worth living. One answer is a life of meaning and purpose leads to greater happiness. But how does purpose relate to a happy fulfilled life? And how can we develop and nurture a purposeful life?
Do you ever feel your life is ok and you’re generally happy but each day is the same? The same tasks and jobs to do such as waking the kids, getting ready for work, commuting in traffic, plowing through clients and paperwork, coming home, making dinner, and then cleaning up. In these responsibilities we can lose our joy. I know I get tired at times and question the value in what I do and some days are easier than others, depending on my mood or how tired I am.
To live with joy, we need to find meaning in the mundane and purpose in the stress. We need to understand our purpose and how to discover it.
What is purpose?
- Our ability to find meaning in life experiences, including negative or painful experiences. 
- Our life purpose which we find when we define our strengths and work towards meaningful goals 
- Our daily purpose. This is meaning in the mundane, despite our moods or emotions.
The benefits of living with purpose
In 2013, researchers at the University of Wisconsin investigated how purpose in life helps recovery from stressful events .
They found purpose in life builds resilience. This allows us to reorganise our thoughts around stressful situations and leads to better health. Purpose creates this cycle of health and resilience.
Separating purpose from emotions
The researchers found, when we experience a negative event, two things happen. First, we have an initial emotional reaction (usually a negative one) and second, we go through emotional recovery. What interested me was having purpose in life helped people in the second stage of emotional recovery. So it’s ok and normal to have an initial reaction, but we can get through it and recover in a healthy way where we are less likely to become depressed or bitter. This is where purpose in life comes in.
When our emotions interrupt living purposefully
Your emotions and feelings fluctuate, and so do mine. When we believe our life has purpose and we matter, this helps us to notice and appreciate beauty. We become satisfied with life, which helps bring stability to our emotions.
Imagine for a minute the ocean during a storm. The waves are choppy and violent. The water in the deep is calm and stable. Our moods show up on the surface. They move up and down. Purpose and meaning live in the deep and remain fixed. Emotions will come, and that’s ok, but how do we create purpose so we can be joyful and recover from hard times?
How to find your purpose
- Find your strengths. What are you good at? What do you read about, think about and enjoy doing? Try reading, learning and growing beyond your job.
- Focus on these strengths, not your weaknesses. If we think about what we’re not good at, there’s less mental space left to think about what we are good at. Become strengths-minded. If you start a cycle of self-criticism or comparing yourself to someone else, try reorganising your thoughts towards what you are good at and the benefits of being you.
- Connect with other people. When we are alone, we can lose sight of meaning in life  . Purpose is found in connecting to people to be kind and generous. Our purpose goes beyond just our needs and goals to helping other people.
- Make a firm decision to enjoy what needs to be done. When you carry out a boring or routine task, try linking it to a larger purpose. For example, I was making pizza dough recently, a boring task for me. I had other tasks in my head but I decided to enjoy it. I could hear birds outside my kitchen window. The day was bright. I was planning a meal for my family and they are part of my life purpose.
- Redefine suffering. I’m not suggesting we ignore our pain or deny it, but, after our initial reaction, we can remember that life has meaning with pain in it. I like what Michael Hyatt says about adversity and questions we ask after an adverse event. He suggests several questions that help us recover in healthy ways. One is “what does this make possible?” . What can this pain do for you? What does it teach you about your purpose in life?
Purpose in life helps us to rebound from negative events, create goals in line with our strengths, and find meaning in the mundane.
Question: What could you do this week to define your purpose?
- List your strengths. Read them daily for a week.
- Choose a name of someone you care about and one way to connect with them this week. How could this boost your joy?
- List 5 mundane tasks you do daily and note how this task links to your greater purpose. For example, laundry: I clean clothes because my family are important to me.
 Schaefer SM, Morozink Boylan J, van Reekum CM, Lapate RC, Norris CJ, et al (2013) Purpose In Life Predicts Better Emotional recovery from Negative Stimuli. PLOS ONE 8(11): e80329. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080329