The quest for purpose is a cornerstone of human existence. Every now and then, I find myself in a conversation with friends or colleagues about whether finding and living our purpose is actually necessary (or even possible!) or if it's just another unrealistic demand of Gen Z.
So, do you really need to discover and live your purpose? Beyond being a philosophical conundrum, this question holds profound psychological significance. From the perspective of positive psychology, the concept of purpose serves as a keystone for wellbeing and a flourishing life. And, while it might take some time to gain clarity around one's individual purpose, research suggests that it is something we can all achieve.
The Concept of Purpose from a Psychological Perspective
In psychology, 'purpose' is typically viewed as a life goal that's both personally meaningful and contributes to the greater good. It's not just about what we want to do, but why we want to do it. In the realm of positive psychology, the field that focuses on promoting wellbeing and thriving, purpose is a critical component. It's one of the central elements of a fulfilling life, driving personal growth and paving the path to self-actualisation - an innate human need.
The Science Behind Purpose and Wellbeing
A growing body of research suggests that finding one's purpose is integral to mental health and wellbeing. It forms part of our psychological wellbeing and the perception to live a meaningful and engaged life. For example, a study by Brassai and colleagues published in "The Journal of Positive Psychology" in 2011, showed that young adults who reported a stronger sense of purpose also reported greater well-being.
A study published by Hill and Turiano in "Psychological Science in 2014 even found that having a purpose in life reduced the risk of mortality among adults. And, a study by Boyle and colleagues published in the "International Journal of Behavioral Medicine", in 2009 found that older adults who reported a greater purpose in life had reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment, as well as a slower rate of cognitive decline. This suggests a potential long-term link between purpose and mental well-being.
Together, these and other studies speak for the importance of identifying and living our purpose as well as the numerous health and wellbeing impacts doing so has.
The Role of Purpose in Motivation and Goal-Setting
There's compelling evidence linking purpose to motivation and goal setting. When individuals have a strong sense of purpose, they are more likely to set ambitious goals and persist in achieving them. This perseverance, in turn, fosters resilience, equipping individuals to bounce back from setbacks more effectively. Purpose serves as a wellspring of motivation, enabling us to reach greater heights in personal and professional spheres.
The Consequences of Living Without Purpose
Conversely, living without a sense of purpose can have detrimental psychological consequences. Studies have linked a lack of purpose to increased stress, higher rates of depression, and decreased life satisfaction. People without a clear purpose often report feeling adrift, without a rudder to steer them through life's turbulent waters.
How to Find Your Purpose: 3 Tips from Positive Psychology
Discovering one's purpose is a deeply personal and transformative journey. Positive psychology offers valuable strategies to guide this exploration.
1) Identify your strengths and values
One of the key steps towards uncovering your purpose is to conduct a self-assessment of your strengths and core values. Your strengths could be anything from writing and public speaking to empathy and problem-solving. Reflect on the times you have felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Your core values, on the other hand, are the guiding principles that give definition to your life beyond the daily operations. They could include values like justice, compassion, integrity, and freedom. Consider what truly matters to you, and how your strengths can serve these values. This alignment often brings clarity towards your purpose.
2) Start with the end in mind
This strategy comes from Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". Envision your ideal future and work backwards. Ask yourself where you would like to see yourself in 5, 10, or even 20 years. What kind of life do you want to lead? What impact do you want to make on your community or even the world? What legacy do you want to leave behind? By beginning with a clear destination in mind, you can make the journey towards it with greater clarity and focus, paving the path towards your life's purpose.
3) Experiment and explore
Your purpose might not come to you while sitting and contemplating. Often, it's discovered while you're out in the world, trying new things, and exploring uncharted territory. This could mean trying out a new hobby, learning a new skill, joining a different community, or even travelling.
These new experiences could open up possibilities and interests you were unaware of. Moreover, facing new challenges and stepping out of your comfort zone often leads to self-discovery and personal growth, bringing you closer to identifying your purpose.
Living Your Purpose: Translating Purpose into Action
Once we've identified our purpose, the next step is to weave it into the fabric of our everyday lives. This involves setting purpose-aligned goals and pursuing them persistently, even in the face of obstacles. It's also crucial to foster an ongoing dialogue with our purpose, checking in with ourselves regularly to ensure that our actions continue to align with our larger life goals.
So, do we need to discover and live your purpose?
From a positive psychological perspective, the answer is a resounding yes. It's an integral ingredient for a fulfilled, mentally healthy, and flourishing life. Having personally experienced both sides - a life without perceived purpose and luckily now the opposite - I can only echo what research is quite unanimously demonstrating: that the journey of discovering and living our purpose, though often challenging, is richly rewarding. It imbues our lives with meaning, propels personal growth, and cultivates resilience.