WHAT WE MEAN BY “LIFE PURPOSE”
When you hear the words “life purpose,” do you think about religion? Do you feel a little intimidated or overwhelmed —like it’s too big of a thing to grasp? Do you feel indifferent?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. A lot of people misunderstand what life purpose is all about. And that makes sense because no one teaches us about purpose in school and many of us don’t read about it in our free time. Many of us wouldn’t know where to begin.
When we feel unsure about something, the easiest thing to do is avoid it. Especially if we feel like there’s nothing we’re missing out on by doing that. Chances are, you or many of your close family and friends are doing exactly that: avoiding thinking about life purpose.
The truth is, people who find their life purpose feel better and are physically healthier than those don’t. To break that down in terms of everyday living: people with purpose experience less stress, sleep better, get sick less frequently, have better self-esteem, are more resilient, and feel more at peace with their lives. And this is only scratching the surface of why having a clear sense of purpose can change the course of our lives. I wholeheartedly believe that if people lived with more purpose and awareness, there would be less suffering for everyone on this planet (and for our planet itself).
The benefits of living with purpose are plenty, and there will be more posts dedicated to just that in the future, but this post is about giving you a clear definition of life purpose so that your previous misconceptions don’t get in the way of your ability to live a better life.
This is one of my favorite frameworks for explaining purpose:
“a central, self-organizing life aim”
This definition was developed by Dr. Todd Kashdan and Dr. Patrick McKnight. They explain this definition further:
“Central in that if present, purpose is a predominant theme of a person’s identity.
If we envision a person positioning descriptors of their personality on a dartboard, purpose would be near the innermost, concentric circle.
Purpose is self-organizing in that it provides a framework for systematic behavior patterns in everyday life.
Self-organization should be evident in the goals people create, the effort devoted to these goals, and decision-making when confronted with competing options of how to allocate finite resources such as time and energy. A purpose motivates a person to dedicate resources in particular directions and toward particular goals and not others. That is, terminal goals and projects are an outgrowth of a purpose.
As a life aim, a purpose cannot be achieved.
Instead, there are continual targets for efforts to be devoted.”
By this definition, life purpose is something we always work toward. It gives us clarity on how to live our lives and what to strive for. And it encompasses religion, career, personal goals, and other parts of our identities.
For example, if someone’s life purpose involves seeking truth and aligning themselves with it, learning about religions or practicing a religion would be a way to live out that purpose.
If someone else’s life purpose includes alleviating the suffering of others, then a career in healthcare might be particularly meaningful.
For those with the purpose of experiencing the beauty and wonder of this world, art and travel might be a way for them to fulfill that aim.
In the examples mentioned above, there would be others ways to fulfill those life purposes. The path a person chooses to fulfill their purpose will depend on a bunch of factors: their values, beliefs, personality tendencies, resources available to them, etc. Their age, culture, abilities, and life experiences would largely determine how they pursue that purpose.
To sum it all up, life purpose is vast and allows for a lot of freedom, yet it’s also specific and actionable in that it gives you direction in life.
Now, before I let you go, your challenge after reading this article is to ask yourself this:
How clear is my sense of purpose in life?
Ponder this before bed tonight or tomorrow on your walk to work or at lunch. Let your mind wander to this question while driving or listening to a song you’ve heard too many times before. Better yet, use it as a journal prompt. Let it generate insights that will provide you with even more clues about what you need to figure out to lead a better life.
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