Having a strong purpose in life makes you happier and healthier. Here are some ways to get started.
Having a purpose in life may be protective against stroke. At Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, brain autopsies showed that older people were much less likely to have evidence of strokes in their brains if they’d felt a strong purpose in life. Other studies show that a life purpose is linked with living longer, slowing Alzheimer’s disease, lower risks of depression and heart attack – and even a better sex life!
But what defines a life purpose? Researchers say that’s up to you. It might mean constantly learning and bettering yourself or contributing to your community. Inspired to find yours?
Here are 45 ways to get you started.
Put pen to paper
The process of writing down what you find meaningful will set you on the right track. Try making these lists.
1. List your core values. What do you believe in? What is most important to you?
2. List things that fascinate you. What captures your interest? What would you like to know more about?
3. List your skills. What are your special talents? What do you enjoy doing?
4. List all the reasons why you got up this morning!
5. Seek therapy. Feeling daunted by the task of finding your life’s meaning on your own? Trained therapists can actually guide you through the process. Yes, life-purpose counselling is a thing!
6. Set goals. Purpose can be defined as having specific goals to work toward. Do you want to learn a language, master the violin, build a schoolhouse, write that epic screenplay? “Purpose is about having a vision in life,” writes Duke University professor Harold Koenig in his book Purpose and Power In Retirement: New Opportunities for Meaning and Significance. “This vision is a picture of something important and significant that we see in our mind’s eye, a picture of something we have not yet achieved but have decided is worth the effort to obtain.”
7. Invent something. Older inventors are often successful because they have more life experience, which can enhance their insight and problem-solving skills.
8. Teach something. Share your expertise! Teaching degrees aren’t necessarily required for instructors of continuing education courses.
9. Write something. Your memoirs might inspire the next generation.
10. Lose Yourself. Have you ever been so thoroughly absorbed in what you were doing that you completely lost track of time? That’s a clue to what your life’s purpose might be.
Save a Life
It gives meaning to your own, and it might not be as out of reach as you think.
11. Join a stem cell registry.
12. Sign your organ donor card.
13. Donate your blood.
14. Take a CPR course.
15. Donate time or money to a humanitarian agency.
16. Think on this: if you had a million dollars to give away to others, what would you do with it?
17. Live today as if you’re going to die tomorrow. (It’s a cliché because it’s true)
18. Meditate on it. At the University of California San Francisco, people who participated in a three-month meditation retreat felt a greater sense of their purpose in life compared to those on the retreat’s waiting list.
19. Uh, I pick love. Vienna psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, concentration camp
survivor and author of the 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, believed there were three pathways to finding your life’s meaning: love, work and suffering.
Find more purpose in your career
A Gallup poll found that only one in six Canadians feels engaged in their jobs. We don’t always have control over what we do, but here’s how you can find more meaning in your work.
20. Concentrate on how what you do makes a difference to others.
21. Embrace opportunities to develop new skills as they come up.
22. Tap into the workplace community, whether it’s by joining the company bowling team or attending a co-worker’s baby shower.
23. Ask your younger self.
“Sometimes it’s best to return to basics when you’re looking for your life’s purpose, and that would be back in your past. What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? How about when you were 16? What were your interests and passions? You might be surprised to learn that you still love the same things!” — Vikki Stark, psychotherapist, Montreal
24. Get mad about you. “Examine your anger. When people in mid-life are looking for purpose, I encourage them to look at what they’ve been pushing away. Often it’s anger, and I suggest looking into what we are angry about. Are there chances missed, societal injustices, thwarted hopes? If we’re angry, there’s usually a passion underneath that wants our attention, badly.” — Pamela Rubin, certified counsellor, Halifax
25. Make it yourself. “Instead of considering your purpose as something to be found, try thinking of it as something to be created. You are, in the grand scheme of things, already talented in your life’s purpose. This shift in perspective will empower you to take action and follow your unique way to infuse your life with your purpose.” — Ryan Cuillerier, certified professional coach, Vancouver
There’s an app for that!
26. Life Purpose. Get more insights into your own identity and values. www.lifepurposeapp.com
27. On Purpose. Create a “purpose statement,” then track which daily activities are in line with your purpose. www.dungbeetle.org/about-the-app
28. Daily Motivational Quotes. Inspire yourself with your own life-changing catchphrases with this free Google Play app.
29. Give your partnership a tune-up. Relationship counselling can deepen your connection to each other and to your life’s purpose.
30. Go deeper. Studies have found that people who prioritize relationships, community and personal growth have a greater sense of well-being compared to those who place more importance on materialistic things like fame, fortune and good looks.
Start standing up for what you believe in
31. Join an advocacy network. (May we suggest CARP?)
32. Sign up for an activist skills training workshop.
33. Lobby your local government.
34. Start a petition.
35. Conduct a fundraiser.
36. Volunteer for an agency that’s driving change.
37. Be of use. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” —Mohandas Gandhi
38. Be kind.
“If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.” —Dalai Lama
Watch an ideacityonline.com talk:
39. “Empirical Study of Happiness”
Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven shares a research-based understanding of happiness and a meaningful life.
40. “Creating a Life Worth Dying For”
Stephen Garrett inspires his audience to live a fuller life by embracing their limited time on earth.
41. “Entanglement of Mind, Body and Environment”
Deepak Chopra explains the power and purpose of our core consciousness.
42. Spend time abroad and broaden your horizons. Adjusting to new cultures has been proven to open your mind. You’ll be more creative, more flexible with your ideas and better at problem-solving, all of which can give you a clearer perspective on your own life.
43. Don’t confuse a happy life with a meaningful one. It’s possible to have both happiness and purpose in your life. But you can have one without the other. A survey by a Florida State University psychologist uncovered five key differences.
- Getting what you want may make you happy but won’t provide meaning.
- Happiness is connected to the present. A meaningful life is linked to the past, present and future.
- Happiness is lower in people who have more stress and anxiety, but meaning is higher in these same people.
- Self-expression and exploring personal identity don’t make people happier, but they do provide meaning.
- Takers have happiness. Givers have meaning.
44. Revisit and revise it. Your life’s purpose may change over time and as milestones are passed – when you retire, for instance, or after your children leave home.
45. Keep trying. The older you get, the more likely it is you’ll have meaning in your life. The takeaway: keep searching. You’re getting there.
A version of this story was originally published online on Jan. 17, 2018