Arguably too many people exist without a purpose in life. They wake up, asking the universe, What the hell is this another day for? Is this all there is? After today, what next?
Don’t get me wrong. Living without a purpose doesn’t happen only to those who seem to be suffering or in pain, or have given up because luck didn’t find their way.
It also happens to people who appear to have it all—the money, the job, the social status. Behind all the nice and fancy stuff, at the end of the day they also ask the same question: What am I here for?
Well, how about this: You might think you don’t have a purpose, but you only don’t know it and you’re already living it.
Sometimes you discover your purpose through your passions, interests, or some heartbreak you’ve had in a distant past. But I’m not going to talk about the how for now.
In this post we’ll tackle the importance of knowing your purpose in life. Why you should be conscious of it, in every waking hour.
Aside from the fulfillment and happiness that come with reaching your goals that follow, there are insanely huge benefits in knowing your purpose.
Let’s get started.
1. With a high purpose in life, you develop this high-value skill.
You’ll be way ahead of the many people who neglect it—focus.
And that also means focus on doing the right things.
The people who disregard this skill might not even be aware that at the end of the day, every day, what they do won’t really matter when they’re on their deathbed looking back and finally trying to make sense of it all.
They simply exist, instead of living the life they should—on purpose.
This is why being aware of your purpose allows you to think about and see clearly the only few things that need your focus.
Without a purpose it would be very easy to just browse Facebook to infinity and then get upset over petty things that in the grand scheme of things shouldn’t even affect your life one teeny bit.
Without a purpose you’d entertain negative and toxic people (including your loved ones!) only to get pissed off when you should be accomplishing important tasks today.
Without a purpose you won’t manage your time considering that on any given day there are crucial times your productivity is at its peak, and then suddenly, you’re somewhere doing something else…and the reason? You’re not even sure why.
The pointlessness is then compensated by unintended feelings of temporary excitement or happiness. And that’s it.
You don’t know the why.
A study published on KQED shows how a “bigger purpose” inspires students to pursue the not-so-fancy art of learning.
Many times, learning is boring. Or at least, in order to understand the wholeness of a complex subject, you’ll have to learn things we call “fundamental,” “basic” or “elementary.”
While these things come natural for some people, it’s no question that these “fundamentals” could be really boring.
And without a purpose, you might easily veer away from the right track.
For example, a 13-year-old wants to learn about the universe. Studying the universe fills his curiosity about chaos, the evolution, or patterns that will happen in the next bazillion years.
But then he finds out that the subject higher math he has to learn is just plain boring. So boring that he now says he hates it and finally decides he doesn’t want to become an astrophysicist anymore.
He’s lost interest in the ambitions of his youth because his main focus shifted from the grandness of the universe to the unfriendliness of mathematics.
You might argue that he’s too young, but in most cases, knowing your purpose helps you stay focused even at the expense of embracing boredom knowing that it is all just part of what you want to achieve, and of how you want to be living your life.
Going back to the above study, the students with purposeful-learning attitude also scored higher on measures of grit and self-control than those who only showed self-oriented motives like a good job or good money.
Another interesting finding is that self-oriented goals like money or getting out of their parents’ house didn’t seem to inspire students as much as the self-transcendent goals did.
When you have a purpose, you’ll focus on the right goals and sacrifices because there’s a bigger picture you want to become a part of, and it’s usually beyond yourself.
You’ll 20/80 your life, making sure that you’re mostly living it with only the 20% that matter.
2. A sense of purpose allows you to live a value-based life.
Our values define us.
You might say, “No, smartypants, habits define us.” Yeah, you’re also right.
But habits are only guided by a higher network of beliefs, knowledge, and ideals that we possess, and they are our values.
That’s why we reinforce good habits. We eat right. We get enough sleep. We pick up our bags and head straight to the gym without second thoughts.
But values are also the reason why we want to change our bad habits.
We want to quit smoking because we want to live long enough to see our kids mature into awesome adults.
We want to quit toying with gossip because we know there’s too much of that in the world already and gossip is not the way we want to be remembered for.
We want to stop the usual negative thoughts because we know that willpower can become a nice habit, too, and that holy shit you don’t want to be thinking about them again for the next 30 minutes.
When you’re aware of your life purpose, you start to identify the values you want to base your life on. Your values become your very own code of conduct that you’ll always observe wherever you are.
Your values can’t be taken away from you.
And if you know your purpose, the unique why you’re here, your values should appear naturally.
3. Purpose helps you develop consistent drive despite adversity.
Going through life alone is tough. There’s simply a lot of frustrations and disappointments. There’s a lot of the bullshit we don’t get to choose and have to deal with.
It could be the shady government, your entitled workmates you have to spend eight to ten hours with, or your OCD.
Going through all of this, every day, can be a drag.
But a life purpose will serve as the light that guides you in this kind of darkness.
If you look at the bigger picture, these sorts of “bad luck” don’t really hinder you. They’re simply a part of who you are. They collectively give you a unique perspective about life that will help you uncover your true purpose.
You see, a life purpose is never the same between two people.
Even though you’re one of twins who always spend every second with each other, are raised in the same home, go to the same school, and use each other’s underwear.
You’ll still discover a different purpose, if you get really specific and detailed as much as you can. And even after that, your life purpose gets refined as you grow.
So pitying yourself for bearing your fair share of adversities is out of the question especially as far as pursuing your life purpose is concerned. Instead, these hardships—your own hardships—shape who you are and help build your character.
And character is way more important than any sort of suffering.
Research confirms that purpose helps you overcome adversity. Purpose helps you get back on track, refocus on what’s meaningful to you, and enjoy life according to the challenges you choose.
So if you’re conscious of your purpose, you get a different view on adversity. It may take a while for you to realize that good heavens, sometimes you need to go through those obstacles because there’s just no other way.
And after you get past those challenges, you’ll realize that adversity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, for after all, they tremendously help you look for the right kind of work you should be doing in your life.
Adversity then becomes a part of your life work. But it becomes easier to handle because you’ll have the drive that results from knowing your life purpose.
4. Longer life, anyone?
What if you could live longer if you had something to live for?
Apparently there seems to be a growing body of research about that rhetorical question.
- A 2009 study shows that Japanese men and women who had ikigai—a sense of purpose—tended to live longer than those who had not.
- A 2014 study found that people who had a greater sense of purpose and direction outlived those who hadn’t, and showed 15% lower risk of death. What’s even more notable is that purposefulness showed to be the best predictor of longevity among other factors like age, gender and emotional health.
- People led by their purpose have a lower risk of death and cardiovascular disease. Purpose likely improves health by strengthening the body against stress.
- Other studies show an association (50% reduction) between purpose and stroke, heart attack and all-cause mortality.
- A sense of purpose can also be good for pain management.
So, do you want to live long enough to see the impact you’re going to make, the legacy you’re going to leave? Then discover your purpose!
A word of caution should be made, though.
Many of us have some sort of a career, in which we spend most of our time.
Your purpose should mature beyond your career. In other words, don’t tie your life purpose to your job!
That’s why it’s called a life purpose. Not career purpose or job purpose. You definitely must consider them in discovering your purpose, but I contend that career is not the main thing you should live for.
The “retirement effect” apparently affects one’s lifespan, too. A study has shown that people who retired at 55 were more likely to die than those who did at 65. A similar study showed that risk of death increased by 51% after retirement.
These studies suggest that there may be a risk in finding meaning only in one’s career.
In any case, you now know what to do: Find your purpose and enjoy a long and happy life!
5. Purposefulness helps develop a sound mind.
Yes, having a purpose is also great for the brain.
Expressing a sense of purpose affects one’s risk of dementia. A study shows that people who had a greater sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and were far less likely to develop minor cognitive problems.
Purposefulness enhances one’s wellbeing, and the overall positive wellbeing is linked to lower cortisol output—which plays a role in lipid metabolism, immune regulation, brain function, and bone calcification.
The mental and physical benefits go hand in hand you must not neglect one at the expense of the other.
If you decide to live your life aimlessly, accepting that you’re only a product of billions of years of evolution and that’s just it, then don’t be surprised if you’ll experience a constant state of overwhelming stress.
If one’s body becomes impaired because they have pursued unnecessary things that tend to abuse it, the physical body ceases to reach its full potential, which in turn leads to a lower sense of wellbeing.
It’s worth noting, however, that having a purpose is not the cause of physical and mental wellbeing, but research shows strong correlations or associations.
Good evidence also shows that a sense of purpose helps people recover form addiction.
Have trouble sleeping? People who expressed purpose and meaning in their lives were 63% less likely to report sleep apnea, 52% less likely to have restless leg syndrome, and had moderately better sleep quality overall.
They also scored higher on measures of memory, executive function and cognitive function than those who had less purpose.
You see, a life purpose not only shows you the right direction you must take. It also allows for the nurture and care you need so you can walk your path with excellence!
Scientists’ Take on Finding Purpose in Life
You might be surprised to hear that the case of life purpose gets constant attention in the research community.
Psychologists Todd Kashdan and Patrick McKnight define purpose:
Purpose is defined as a central, self-organizing life aim. Central in that if present, purpose is a predominant theme of a person’s identity.
If we envision a person positioning descriptors of their personality on a dartboard, purpose would be near the innermost, concentric circle.
Purpose is self-organizing in that it provides a framework for systematic behavior patterns in everyday life. Self-organization should be evident in the goals people create, the effort devoted to these goals, and decision-making when confronted with competing options of how to allocate finite resources such as time and energy.
A purpose motivates a person to dedicate resources in particular directions and toward particular goals and not others. That is, terminal goals and projects are an outgrowth of a purpose.
As a life aim, a purpose cannot be achieved. Instead, there are continual targets for efforts to be devoted.
It’s quite amazing how Purpose is at the center of it all.
Path 1: Purpose is not a biggie in terms of daily living. But like other studies have shown, cognitive detachment due to a lack of purpose has its negative effects.
Path 2: People with a sense of purpose are motivated to be goal-oriented.
Paths 3-4: With purposefulness, one can overcome obstacles and adversities.
Paths 5-6: A higher sense of purpose tends to yield higher levels of psychological and physical stress.
Path 7: Religious conviction can help shape and be shaped by a person’s purpose, especially when realized in the early stages of their life. It’s important to note that such beliefs, which are mostly taught by parents, come with methods of modeling and nurture.
Paths 8-9: Refer to reasons #4 and #5 above.
Path 10: One may not find their purpose due to certain boundary conditions, which for example is very low general cognitive ability. Interestingly, however, a moderate number of people who meet those boundary conditions but lack purpose are suspected to live less satisfying lives than those who fail to meet them.
Think About It
Your purpose, if you consciously live with it every day, becomes your guide in this long shot we call life.
If you know it, you can set goals more easily and clearly for the different areas of your life like work, family, mental/spiritual health, hobbies, passions, side projects, romantic relationships, travel, and so on.
If only we could live forever, perhaps we could do all of those things…or maybe not.
If we could live forever, then we just wouldn’t find any meaning in them.
And this is what makes life special.
It’s not only the moments that bring happiness and excitement that make it special.
The reality of our struggles, adversities and challenges that we keep choosing to face head-on also makes living worthwhile.
It’s the realization that no, we’re not like the other kinds of animals unconscious of nothing but perhaps their preys and predators. That we are the most intelligent species to walk this planet. That we have the final say in making the quality of life better.
Even when you happen to live in a “blue zone,” that is, a place where many people live up to more than 100 years, you will realize that 100 years is still a short time.
Short time to entertain unnecessary thoughts that only slow you down and make you feel like shit.
Short time to think about what the naysayers spread across town.
Short time not to do work that freaking satisfies you and thus fulfills your purpose.
And short time chasing the wrong things over the people important and dear to you.
If you think life has been unfair up to this point of your existence…
If you think you’re incapable of making things happen because life tells you exactly that…
If you think you have no hope in slightly changing your direction…
…but at this point you’re aware of the possibility that they all lead you to your one big life purpose…
…then take a moment to stop and think about the five reasons I talked about.
And live anew, with a purpose.