Woman journaling on her desk

A beginner's guide to finding purpose in life.

Your purpose in life is what gives you meaning in life.   It is your reason for getting up in the morning and your internal GPS during times when you feel lost, stuck, or down on your luck.

Studies have shown that having a purpose in life can even contribute to your overall health and wellbeing.  People that are living a life of purpose have better health outcomes and longevity.   People who have a sense of purpose are also associated with having a higher initial income and net worth.

Not everyone knows what their purpose in life is, and you might be one of them.  If you've ever wondered what your purpose in life is, or why on earth you are here, you are not alone.

Woman journaling on her desk

Examples of purpose in life.

I'll take an examples from my own life to illustrate what happens when you have a purpose in life and the consequences of not having a purpose in life.

My purpose in life and the American dream.

I was raised in a family where both mom and dad commuted long distances to jobs where they worked from 9 to 5, 40 hours a week, while raising 4 kids.  For a big chunk of their lives, my parents made many sacrifices.

My mom would always say she was willing to make them because she was able to buy her dream home and afford material things that she didn't have growing up.  My parents were willing to put their family before their own needs in order to live the American dream.  This had a big influence on me growing up and it shaped the way I thought my life was supposed to be.

As a young child, I loved helping others heal and seeing them thrive.  It's the reason I chose to be in the healthcare field.  I also had numerous aspirations and hobbies that had nothing to do with each other.  Here's a list of my passions and interests:

  • fashion designer
  • skateboarder
  • doll maker
  • roller skater
  • gardener
  • track and field
  • concert pianist
  • horticulturist
  • historian
  • artist

Although my passions were varied and kept changing over the years, I kept coming back to health care.  Therefore, I chose a career in dental hygiene because it fulfilled not just my passion for helping others, but also enabled me to have a family while working part time.

I struggled to model my life after my parents.  My commute to work was a mere 5 mile drive and I was working flexible, part time hours, peanuts in comparison to what they had to do.  After having my third child, I suffered many challenges, two of which were postpartum depression and anxiety.

The things I used to value and believe in didn't seem important anymore.

My own purpose in life and finding meaning.

As a result, I questioned many things I thought I valued, believed in, and had worked for.  I was searching high and low for answers, because I felt lost, like a feather floating around aimlessly in the wind.

Although I sought professional help, I knew deep down that I also had to find a purpose in life that was unlike the one that I had before.

This led me on a quest to explore how I wanted to spend my time, what I really wanted my life to be like, and what would make me truly happy.

Quotes and questions on purpose in life and happiness.

I believe that the purpose of our life is to seek happiness. - H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

This was a quote taken from the book, "The Art of Happiness", which was cowritten by the Dalai Lama.  According to the book, happiness is the objective that we humans can work towards to attain lasting and genuine contentment and joy in life.

This begs the questions then:

  • What in life makes us happy?
  • What makes life more beautiful?
  • What makes life more enjoyable?
  • Is the point of life to just be happy?

"I do know that you just have to be careful when you make happiness your GPS system in life...Happiness can be deceiving, elusive, and misleading.  I've had a few friends who have opened restaurants because they love to cook only to find they were miserable because of all the stuff that came with it.  I have another friend who loves to paint, but she wouldn't want to do it for a living.

And my wife's best friend is happiest when she is decorating, but she was unhappy working as an interior decorator.  The fact is, just because you are happy doing something doesn't mean that you should make it your life's work.  Some hobbies are meant to be hobbies, not careers."  - excerpt from The Seed: finding purpose and happiness in life and work, by Jon Gordon

The Dalai Lama said that we seem to have a natural inclination toward happiness since we're always striving for it.  However, we need to be careful when we tether our happiness to our purpose in life because we risk disappointment, according to Gordon.  This is one reason why our pursuit of purpose can seem daunting and difficult.

Why is it hard to find your purpose in life?

One reason why it's difficult to search for our purpose in life is we follow the things that make us happy, hoping that they will give us purpose and meaning in life.

This can lead to an endless search for meaning and a constant struggle to figure out what to do.

Gordon indicated that what we really need is to find purpose and meaning in what we're already doing and happiness will be the fruit of that, instead of confusing our purpose in life with our passions, interests, and hobbies.

Why it's important to find your purpose in life.

The Japanese call it ikigai.  Costa Ricans call it plan de vida.  It is what makes life worth living.  With all the studies and literature out there, it is undeniable that having a purpose in life is important to our health and wellbeing.

The benefits of knowing your purpose.

1. Predicts greater income and net worth.

People who had a higher sense of purpose had higher levels of income and net worth initially, and were more likely to increase on these financial outcomes over time.

2. Gives you direction.

Having a life with purpose give you a clear sense of where you want to go in life.  It's like having a road map for the destination where you are headed.

3. Greater emotional resilience.

A purpose in life may grant you protection, and help you recover from negative emotional events, resulting in increased resilience to unpleasant emotions.

4. Longer life.

Having a sense of purpose in life is associated with greater longevity & reduced rate of mortality amongst community dwelling older persons.

5. Better health outcomes.

A purpose in life is associated with positive health outcomes, such as less chronic conditions, fewer disabilities, and decreased mortality.  Therefore, interventions to improve or maintain higher levels of purpose in life may lead to successful gains over time.

How to find your purpose in life.

How do you know what your purpose in life is?  That is a great question.  Remember the quote about the Dalai Lama and the pursuit of happiness?

He said that being happy in life requires continuous effort and training of the mind.  The same goes for your purpose in life.

It's not something that you will likely find within a day, but the effort will be worthwhile.  Here are 12 exercises to help you on your journey to finding your purpose in life.

12 tips to find your purpose in life.

1.  Know yourself better.

This seems like a simple task, but many of us don't actually do this.  Getting to know yourself will help you find your purpose because you need to know what you like, what you don't like, and what makes you tick.

Knowing yourself better will help you connect with yourself on a deeper level.  This exercise, along with most of the exercises here, requires some self-inquiry, patience, and honesty.

Answer the following questions.

What do I love?
What are my talents?
What are my skills?
What did I want to be as a child?
What are my strengths?
What are my weaknesses?
What are my beliefs?
What are my values?
Where do I see myself in a year?
Where do I see myself in 5 years?
Where do I see myself in 10 years?

Helpful article:  Know yourself, simple steps to find the true you.

2.  Follow your bliss.

When you follow your bliss, you follow what makes you feel joyful and alive.  You might find it scary at first and this is okay.

Following your bliss may lead to your purpose in life because it allows you to explore your likes and dislikes.  You don't even have to make commitments to follow your bliss, you can just be curious and explore.

Tips to help you follow your bliss:

  • Create a list of the things that you love to do or raise your energy so you can do more of them.
  • Make another list of the things you don't find satisfying or bring your energy down.  Decide if it's something you want to let go or improve on.
  • Accept where you are right now.
  • Embrace imperfection.

Helpful article:  6 simple but powerful steps to follow your bliss.

3.  Make a list of values.

Your core values are what you believe.  They are also shaped by your experiences and how you perceive the world.  Some values come from within and others are influenced by your surroundings and anyone you have crossed paths with in life.

This is important because you can align your values with your purpose, making it more meaningful and impactful.  Here is a list of values to help you get started.

  • Family
  • Security
  • Creativity
  • Connection
  • Ambition
  • Altruism
  • Recognition
  • Freedom
  • Loyalty
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Enjoyment
  • Compassion
  • Equality
  • Wisdom
  • Power

Helpful articles:
The importance of values and how to define them.
Core beliefs and how to change them.

4. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude helps you focus on what you have rather than what you don't have.  It helps you get into an abundance mindset and out of a scarcity mindset.

It can help you live a more purposeful life because it brings your attention to the things in your life that you may be overlooking and things that are not so obvious, but are very important.

One example is from my own life.  I challenged myself to write down one thing I was grateful for in a journal for 30 days.  I found that I was most grateful for the little things that were already in my life and they were things that brought me the greatest joy.

Things like sipping coffee in the morning, hearing birds sing outside of my window, tending my garden, and spending quality time with my family.

5. Find your Ikigai.

Ikigai is the Japanese term for "reason for living".  It's a concept that can help you find your purpose in life by figuring out:

  1. What you love.
  2. What you're good at.
  3. What the world needs.
  4. What you can get paid for.

Those 4 areas intersect and in between them are your:

  1. Passion.
  2. Mission.
  3. Vocation.
  4. Profession.

In the middle is the sweet spot, or your ikigai.

Here's a diagram to help illustrate this for you.

Purpose in life/ikigai diagram

6. Do an act of kindness.

Being kind to yourself and others takes courage and intention.  Kindness is important because like gratitude, it can help you become more aware of the little things in your life that you may be overlooking.  Some of these "little" things are what give our lives great joy and meaning.

An act of kindness doesn't have to be big.  It can be as simple as smiling or saying hello to a stranger.  Or saying a positive affirmation to yourself and connecting with it emotionally.

Pay attention to your emotions after you do your act of kindness.  Then keep track of them and look for any patterns or insights.  Give this practice a few weeks to give yourself a chance to notice any differences in your mood or your mindset.

7. Become more aware.

Be aware of what others are always saying about you or how they describe you.  Also be aware of what people are always going to you for.  This is important because it can reveal  or bring to light your unhidden talent or skill.

Also be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Pay attention to what you gravitate towards or what lights you up inside when you think about it or are engaged in it.  Keep track of this by writing it somewhere that you won't forget.

8. Write down your thoughts.

If you find it difficult to think about your purpose in life, then it's a good idea to write down what's on your mind to process the thoughts that are swirling around in your head.

You can pick a quiet time of the day where you can freely write down what you're thinking to minimize disruption.  In addition to freestyle writing, you want to write about where you came from, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future.

This can help you visualize the bigger picture.  It allows you to step back and look at your life through a different lens.  Sometimes viewing something from a different angle can help you gain more clarity.

9. Seek help from others.

Look for people who have similar interests as you, or who can offer you helpful advice.  People can be your greatest resource, but be sure that they are supportive and positive.  You don't want people who will pull you down, like crabs in a bucket.

It's not easy asking for help from others, so you might want to start with the ones you are comfortable with, such as your friends, family, coworkers, or spiritual circle.

If you're open, you can branch out and seek help from other people outside of your circle, like a mentor, a counselor, a therapist, a club, an online group, or a consultant.  They might be able to teach you, get to the root cause of things, give you helpful advice, or point you in the right direction.

10.  Become intentional.

Setting an intention is like opening a gate that leads to what it is you are striving for.  It almost sounds like a goal, but it's not.  Unlike a goal, there is no commitment to complete your intention.

An intention will help you focus your attention on what you are doing and what you want out of life.  In turn this can help you become more aware of your purpose in life.

Setting intentions set you up for success because they open the way for change and transformation to occur.  You can take your intentions one step further and turn them into goals and good habits.

11. Create goals and habits.

One step you can take to live a life of purpose is to make a list of goals for yourself.  Your goals are the action steps that you lay out in order to get closer to what you want.

Write down what you want to experience and accomplish in your life.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself that might help:

  • What did I always want to learn but never had the time for?
  • Where do I want to go but did not have the means to get there?
  • If money and time were not an issue, what would I be doing right now?

When you're making goals, it's helpful to keep them "SMART".  Here's a breakdown of SMART goals.

  • SPECIFIC:  Be sure you write clearly and in detail what it is you want to accomplish.
  • MEASURABLE:  Make sure you can keep track of your goals.
  • ACHIEVABLE:   Set a goal that is within your reach.
  • REALISTIC:  Be sure your goal is not impossible.
  • TIME-BOUND: Set a goal that can be completed within a certain time frame.  Break it down into smaller goals if you need to.

Writing down your goals and planning them in the order that you want to do them by, will help you take the next step in finding your purpose in life.  Keep in mind that there are no goals that are too tiny.  Any step you take, no matter how minute, will help you inch closer to your goal and will add up to big change in the long run.

Remember that positive goals become good habits if you do them regularly.  When you're ready, you can take action on your goals and plan.

12. Take action.

Last but not least, take action on your goals.  This step is crucial if you want to live a more purposeful life because you can make tons of goals and plans but if you don't take action, you will only stay right where you are.

Fear and doubt may creep in when it comes following through on your plan because we are hard wired this way.  Sometimes fear can motivate people and sometimes it can keep people from taking action.

It takes tremendous faith and trust in the process to put your plans into action.  You can always take tiny steps toward your goals so it doesn't feel like you're taking huge risk if you're afraid.  Even if you don't notice a difference right away, you will over time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you're feeling unsure:

  • What will I gain if I follow my passions and see my plans all the way through?
  • What do I stand to lose if I follow my passions and dreams?
  • What do I lose if I don't follow my passions and dreams?
  • What will knowing my purpose do for my life?
  • What transformation will occur physically, mentally, and/or spiritually if I am living my life's purpose?

These are some very deep questions, so be sure to take your time and find a quiet spot so you can contemplate.

Helpful articles:
Good habits and goals: how to create and keep them.
Trust in the process and face your fears.

Final thoughts.

Your life's purpose is your reason for getting up every morning.  It's what makes your life exciting and interesting.  Your purpose is something you can lean on during challenging or difficult times.  Studies have even shown that having a purpose can lead to better health outcomes and a longer life.

You can take some steps toward finding your purpose in life by getting to know yourself, writing down your thoughts, following your bliss, asking for help from others, being kind to yourself, practicing gratitude, setting goals, and taking action.

I hope you found this guide helpful.  Please let me know your thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *