Purpose can be defined as living intentionally in a specific, well-chosen direction according to our values. Our purpose is bigger than ourselves.
While it is guided by our internal values, our purpose should be outwardly directed and focused to what we can contribute to the world. A purpose bounds our lives, and boundaries bring freedom. Without boundaries we would never know where to begin and end.
We would have no idea how to direct our attention and actions, nor on what we should focus. When we live according to our purpose, we are taking all of your life’s energy and dedicating it to achieving a particular end. That is a powerful way to live.
People with a purpose are more resilient and are actually in better health than those without a purpose in life. Our lives need structure, and purpose gives it that structure.
Living by our values brings peace of mind. A purpose informs us of who we are, informs others of what we are about, and helps us ensure we are on the right path, doing the right work. Purpose allows us a new and deeper level of self-awareness and social awareness.
Self-awareness comes when we take the time to mindfully reflect on and exam our actions and honestly appraise whether they are in-line with our purpose, and living purposefully brings with it a social-awareness of how we fit in with and relate to the larger world. Are we trying to live sober but are surrounded by patiers?
Do we want to live a life devoted to justice, but work in a job that does not treat people, animals, and/or the environment in a just way?
No need exists for us to be something other than what we are when we live purposefully.
One invaluable component of living purposefully is mindfulness. Mindfulness can be defined as the purposeful, non-judgemental awareness of what we are experiencing in the present moment.
By living mindfully, we bring awareness to our current state and actions. This awareness allows us to know when we are not living according to our purpose and helps us return to our mission and true selves.
Some studies even suggest that meditators are less depressed and have a greater sense of purpose; that meditation actually helps them find, strengthen, and improve their life’s purpose. A mindful life is a purposeful life.
We can bring mindfulness to our lives in a variety of ways. I have written about mindful practices here and mindful self-compassion here. When it comes to our life’s purpose, we can be mindful in several ways.
Respond Do Not React
Reaction is based on habit and is our first emotion about a situation. When we respond we are taking the time to consider the situation completely and give it a response that is appropriate.
When someone approaches us with a job offer for more money or an exciting opportunity, our initial reaction may be “Yes!” but before we answer we need to pause and consider the situation fully.
Will saying yes to this offer allow us to live more aligned with our purpose? Will this opportunity bring us closer to realizing our life’s vision? If the answer is not yes, then we should respond with a “No.”
Building a Purposeful Life
The formula for living a purposeful life is pretty simple:
- Develop a purpose. Dictated by your values and principles, how do you want to make the world a better place?
- Build a vision for your future based on your purpose. Based on your purpose, what is your end state? This should give you hope for the future.
- Set and achieve goals that move you toward your future.
- What work should you be doing now to move toward your desired future state? Your purpose is what gives you the motivation to get out of bed to work on the goals that move you toward your vision.
- Stop to mindfully reflect on where you are going, what you are doing. Are you still heading in the direction of your purpose? Does your purpose still hold meaning for you?
The vision is the “what” and the purpose is the “why.” If your purpose and vision are not aligned, then you need to re-think one of the other. But simple is not the same as easy.
Many of us struggle with developing our purpose. First, we need to understand that our purpose and especially how we fulfill that purpose can change throughout our lives.
As we move through the stages of lives – single man, husband, father, and grandfather – how we find and live our purpose changes. What worked for us at 25 may no longer work at 45.
Second, we must never think our purpose is not “good enough” or “special enough” to guide our lives. Making sure that people have working cars or stores to shop in is needed as much as making sure that children and adults never go hungry.
Below are some ways to develop and build your purpose. These are difficult questions to answer, but they are important questions.
- What are my values and principles? What do I give the greatest importance to?
- What do those values say about me? What themes or ideas can I develop around those values?
- How do I represent those values in my daily life? How could I express those values?
- What am I really good at? What do I enjoy doing? How can I bind those into a larger purpose for my life?
- What is missing in the world? What do I think needs to be done? What do I want to contribute to the world?
- What do I want my legacy to be? If my purpose was written on my tombstone, what would it read?
- What accomplishments am I most proud of in my life? What activities make me feel the most satisfied? Gives me energy
- What activities get me into a state of flow? What do these activities have in common? What do they mean to and say about me?
- If everything in my life were to work out perfectly, then what would I be doing in ten years?
- Where am I now in relation to my future self? What would it take to get to that state?
Once you have a purpose – a grand, overarching reason to be on this earth – what can you do that helps you live your purpose and move you toward your vision? Think of these as missions that help you achieve your overall objective. If your purpose it to alleviate suffering in the world, then you can start volunteering at a hospital.
Test out these missions and take time to mindfully reflect on how they worked for you and if you want to continue with them or try another approach.
Living purposefully can also help us live mindfully. When we are fully engaged with meaningful work, we become present and stop wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else, as someone else.
Previously published on Goodmenproject.com