Life Purpose: What Is It and How to Find It
What is life purpose and how do you find your life purpose (or purposes)? Learn more about the science of purpose so you can create a more purpose-driven life.
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What Is Life Purpose?
Life purpose is defined as having set goals and a direction for one's life (Hill et al., 2010). Many of us think of life purpose and meaning in life as the same thing, but they are slightly different. More specifically, it's thought that life purpose, or engaging in purpose-driven behaviors, is just one thing that contributes to a meaningful life.
When you have purpose in your life, you likely feel good about the way you are living your life. You might feel that there is some ultimate reason for your actions and that you are contributing to the world in some important way. This gives you a sense of satisfaction and connectedness which can help you reach higher levels of well-being.
How Do You Define Life Purpose?
Life purpose means different things to different people. One study suggests that there are four different types of purpose (Hill et al., 2010). These types are:
People vary on how much they pursue each of these types of purpose. But if our goal is to increase happiness and well-being, then focusing our efforts on the prosocial type of purpose is the best strategy. Specifically, get involved in projects that help others in some way and try to “give back” in ways that matter to you.
Finding Meaning in Life
Although life purpose and life meaning are not quite the same things, it seems helpful to talk about meaning in life here as well. The factors that are thought to make up a meaningful life include values, principles, purpose, accomplishment, and excitement (Morgan & Farsides, 2009).
Each of these things individually contributes to a greater sense of meaning in life. So ask yourself, how strong do you feel in each of these areas and what could you do to focus more on each of these things?
Video: Inspiration to Find Your Life Purpose
Finding a Life Purpose
So how do you find your life purpose (or purposes)? First, it's important to keep in mind that you can have more than one purpose. You can have lots, and the more the better. To start finding your purposes, ask yourself these questions:
1. What pain, injustice, or problem do you really want to be solved?
This question can help you discover what really matters to you. Once you know this, start setting goals and intentions for how you'll help solve this problem. This doesn't have to be anything big. For example, if you really want the world to be a nicer place, you can start making it that way by practicing random acts of kindness in your daily life.
2. What activities energize you?
Your answer to this question can further point to your life purpose because when you are in alignment with your life purpose, you feel energized and may even experience the state of flow—an experience where you're so immersed in what you're doing that you become fully present and may even lose track of time.
3. What are you willing to sacrifice for?
The things that give us life purpose are usually the things that matter so much to us that we're willing to sacrifice other important things like leisure time or money. So what are the things, people, or projects that you're are willing to sacrifice for?
4. Who do you want to help?
The thing about happiness is that if we become overly focused on ourselves and our own happiness, we're actually less happy (Ford et al., 2014). That's why it's so important to disconnect for a moment from your desire to find your purpose. Instead, shift your focus onto how you can help others. Ask yourself who can you help, how can you help, and who do you want to help? Start small if you need to—offer to help a friend, give a compliment, bake cookies for your coworkers, or say thanks to the store clerk. Figuring out how you can help others in ways that are meaningful to you is the key to finding life purpose.
What Else Gives People Life Purpose?
These seven things can further contribute to life purpose:
How to Find Your Purpose
After reflecting on the drivers of purpose that we've discussed above, you may want to write a personal purpose statement or mission statement. Having a personal purpose statement can help you make decisions that are in accordance with your values and goals, and it can help you stay on track.
Here are some guidelines:
What Life Purpose Feels Like
Finding your purpose feels a lot like finding yourself. You know who you are, what you are meant to do, and nothing can stop you from doing it. You might suddenly not care what other people think because you're doing something so important to you that no one could convince you otherwise. And pursuing your purpose doesn't require that you be successful because it's the journey that matters more than the destination.
Living your purpose feels like walking a path that is only yours. So you might have to step off the path you're currently on. You might need to figure out your own special way forward. That's why pursuing your life purpose can be scary. Others may doubt you; you may even doubt yourself. But somewhere deep inside you, you know what feels right and what doesn't feel right.
What Is Your Life Purpose?
Help us better understand the things that give people purpose by sharing your responses below.
Activities to develop this skill:
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.