Pointing to Purpose

Clarity of purpose makes life fulfilling and a growing body of research shows that people with a strong sense of direction are healthier and live longer. This is encouraging news for people who already feel connected with meaning in their lives, but for those of you who find it difficult to identify your life’s purpose, here are some practical strategies to identify values and passions and help you discover your purpose.

Emotions can serve as a compass pointing to your purpose. Review your day and notice experiences that activate strong feelings. What invigorates, touches or angers you? What makes you sad? What makes you happy? These feelings highlight the experiences, values and issues that matter to you.

Consider the people you admire. What do you find inspiring about what they’re doing? Which thought leaders or trendsetters do you follow? The people you’re drawn to offer more clues about what matters to you. You don’t need to do what they’re doing—you will engage with your purpose in your own unique way—but the people who inspire you illuminate what is meaningful to you.

Living a purposeful life doesn’t require you to overhaul your daily life, quit your job or move to a monastery. Once you identify your core values, you can integrate them into your routines. For example, cooking dinner for your family might feel like a burdensome chore, but when you focus on the value of health or connection, it can feel fulfilling and joyful. Look for ways to infuse meaning into your existing daily activities. By changing your thinking from “I have to do (this activity)” to “I get to do (this activity),” you might gain new information about the deeper purpose of your existing tasks.

Purpose is often a form of service to others in need, and certainly these days, we need all hands on deck to attend to the growing needs of our distressed communities. But if you’re burned out from caregiving or being in survival mode, your purpose probably needs to be restoration, security or self-care.

Given the overwhelming challenges facing our world, we can also become overwhelmed by too many issues needing our attention. Rather than a lack of purpose, you might have purpose overload. This can leave us paralyzed, and we end up taking no action at all. Pick one issue to act on so you’re living your values and release your other concerns, focusing on how other people are taking care of these issues. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Engaging with purpose can seem like a daunting task, but daily meaningful practices help us feel more fulfilled. And taking purposeful action can help us find our way through these trying times.

photo credit: Austin Chan

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