Do you have a feeling of purpose?
Psychologists have been studying how long-term, meaningful goals emerge throughout the course of our lives for decades. Goals that generate a feeling of purpose are those that have the potential to influence the lives of others, such as establishing an organization, studying illness, or teaching children to read.
Indeed, a feeling of purpose seems to have developed in humans in order for us to do great things together, which may explain why it is related with improved physical and mental health. In an evolutionary sense, Purpose is adaptable. It aids in the survival of both people and species.
Many people seem to assume that purpose originates from your unique abilities and distinguishes you from others—but this is just half of the reality. It also evolves as a result of our connections with others, which is why a crisis of purpose is often a sign of isolation. Once you’ve found your way, you’ll probably definitely encounter people who are on the same journey as you, trying to arrive at the same destination—a community.
Here are six strategies for overcoming solitude and discovering your life’s purpose.
- Go through the book
Reading ties us to individuals we’ll never meet, spanning time and space—an experience connected to a feeling of meaning and purpose, according to study. (Note: “Meaning” and “purpose” are related but distinct social-scientific conceptions.) Meaning is a subset of Purpose; meaning is a much larger idea that often encompasses value, effectiveness, and self-worth.)
Leslie Francis, for example, analyzed a sample of roughly 26,000 teens from England and Wales in a 2010 research and found that those who read the Bible more often had a greater sense of purpose. Secular reading seems to have an effect as well. Raymond A. Mar and colleagues discovered a relation between reading poetry and fiction and a feeling of purpose among teenagers in a review of empirical data.
“Reading fiction may enable teenagers to reason about the complete lives of characters, providing precise insight into an entire lifetime without needing to have completely experienced most of their own lives,” they propose. Teens are more likely to sense purpose in their own lives if they see it in the lives of others. In this sense, purpose is an imaginative act.
Many of the folks I spoke with for this post referenced key books or concepts they discovered in books.
W.E.B. Du Bois’ words led social-justice campaigner Art McGee to embrace a particular vision of African-American identity and emancipation. Journalist Michael Stoll was inspired by the “social responsibility philosophy of journalism” that he learned about at Stanford University. “Essentially, reporters and editors have not only the potential, but also the obligation, to enhance their community by acting as impartial arbiters of issues that need to be solved,” he argues. “It has served as my professional North Star ever since.” As a result of this inspiration, Michael went on to establish The San Francisco Public Press, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization.
So, if you’re having a purpose crisis in your life, go to a bookstore, library, or institution. Find books that are important to you, and they may help you recognize what is important in your own life.
- Turn your pain into a source of healing for others.
Of all, discovering our purpose isn’t only a mental exercise; we also need to feel it. That is why it may emerge from pain, both our own and that of others.
Kezia Willingham grew up in poverty in Corvallis, Oregon, in a family torn apart by domestic violence. “When I was growing up impoverished, embarrassed, and certain that my existence was a mistake,” she recalls, “no one at school interfered, assisted, or supported my mother, myself, or my brother.” “I was racing around the streets, skipping school, having sex with strangers, and consuming whatever substance I could get my hands on.”
Kezia enrolled at an alternative high school when she was 16 years old, which “caused me to feel I had alternatives and a road out of poverty.” She went to college and was particularly “attracted to the students with ‘issues'”—students like the one she used to be. She states:
I want the kids who grew up like me to realize that they have bright futures ahead of them. I want children to realize they are intelligent even if they do not reach governmental academic requirements. I want children to understand that they are just as good and precious as any other human being who was born into more fortunate circumstances. They are, after all. And there are a plethora of signals that tell them differently.
Another person’s grief might sometimes lead us to our purpose. When Christopher Pepper was a senior in high school, a “trembling, sobbing buddy” informed him that a classmate had raped her. “I soothed as best I could and left that discussion promising to do something to prevent this from occurring to others,” Christopher adds. He followed through on his pledge by becoming a Peer Rape Educator in college, and subsequently a sex educator in San Francisco public schools.
Why do some individuals, such as Kezia and Christopher, appear to find purpose in their pain, while others are crushed by it? As we will see later, some of the solution may be related to the emotions and behaviors we create in ourselves.
- Develop amazement, appreciation, and generosity.
Certain feelings and activities that enhance health and well-being, such as amazement, gratitude, and generosity, may also generate a feeling of purpose.
Dacher Keltner of the Greater Good Science Center performed many experiments that demonstrated that the sensation of awe helps us feel linked to something greater than ourselves—and so may offer the emotional basis for a feeling of purpose.
Of course, awe by itself will not provide you with a sense of purpose in life. It is not enough to just feel that you are a little part of something larger; you must also be motivated to make a good difference in the world. Gratitude and generosity come into play here.
“It may seems contradictory to develop purpose through creating a thankful mindset,” argues psychologist Kendall Bronk, a recognized authority on purpose. According to study conducted by William Damon, Robert Emmons, and others, children and people who can list their blessings are significantly more inclined to strive to “contribute to the world beyond themselves.” This is most likely due to the fact that if we can see how others make our world a better place, we will be more inclined to offer something back.
We have arrived at altruism. At this time, there is no doubt that helping others is related with a meaningful, purposeful existence. Daryl Van Tongeren and colleagues discovered in one research that persons who participate in more altruistic actions, such as volunteering or giving money, had a better feeling of purpose in their life.
Surprisingly, gratitude and charity seem to act in tandem to provide meaning and purpose. In a subsequent experiment, the researchers assigned certain individuals at random to write letters of gratitude—and those persons afterwards reported a higher feeling of purpose. Christina Karns and colleagues discovered that generosity and thankfulness are neurologically related, with both activating the same reward pathways in the brain.
- Pay attention to what other people like about you.
Shawn Taylor is shown with his family.
Shawn Taylor is shown with his family.
Giving gratitude may assist you in discovering your life’s purpose. However, you might find purpose in what others compliment you for.
Shawn Taylor, like Kezia Willingham, had a difficult upbringing, and he was attracted to dealing with children who had serious behavioral difficulties. Unlike her, he often felt as though his profession was a dead end. “I believed I was terrible in my chosen profession,” he admits. Then, five years later, a female he’d worked with approached him.
Shawn recalls, “She recounted how I helped to alter her life,” and she requested him to lead her down the aisle when she married. Shawn hadn’t even considered her in all that time. “Something clicked, and I knew I was on the right track. There were no details, but my goal was to work with youth.”
The artists, authors, and musicians I interviewed often mentioned how receiving praise from others drove their work. Dani Burlison had a strong sense of purpose and worked as a writer and social-justice activist in Santa Rosa, California, for many years. When wildfires ravaged her neighborhood, Dani learned that her capabilities were required in a new way: “I’ve found that my networking and emergency response abilities have been incredibly beneficial to my town, my kids, and firefighters!”
Although no study has been conducted to investigate how being appreciated may drive a feeling of purpose, we do know that gratitude builds connections, which are frequently the source of our purpose, as many of these examples reveal.
- Find and form a community
As Dani demonstrates, we may often discover our sense of purpose in the people around us.
Many people advised me that finding purpose in family was important. Art McGee discovered purpose—working for social and racial justice—through “love and respect for my industrious father” in combination with his reading. “He and other hardworking folks deserved so much better.”
Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, an environmental and social justice advocate, feels compelled to “leave the world a better place than I found it.”
” Being a mother “strengthened that purpose (it will be their world and their children’s world),” she adds. It “definitely effects how I parent (wanting to create anti-racist, feminist, radical children who will want to fight and lead).”
Of course, our children may reject our purpose. Amber Cantorna was reared by purpose-driven right-wing Christian parents. “My mom kept us busy all the time, all inside that strict Christian bubble,” she adds. Amber had a strong sense of purpose as a result of her family and community: “to be a good Christian and role model.” To be a benefit to others.”
The problem is that this fundamental purpose included making others more like them. Amber’s family and society rejected her after she came out as a lesbian at the age of 27. This sparked a profound sense of purpose crisis, which she overcame by joining a new religion group “that helped mold me and gave me a feeling of belonging,” she adds.
Often, the importance of our purpose is reflected in the company we keep. Amber found that her parents’ purpose was built on exclusion. Once she accepted an identity that they couldn’t accept, she had no place — and no purpose — in that group. The new community and identity of homosexual and lesbian Christians, which she worked to develop, gave her a new sense of purpose.
Take a glance about you if you’re having problems remembering your purpose. What is it that you share in common with them? What exactly are they attempting to be? What influence do you think they’ll have on the world? Is that a beneficial impact? Can you join them in making that difference? What do they require? Can you please give it to them?
If the answers to those questions do not excite you, you may need to seek out a new community—and with it, a new purpose.
- Share your story
Reading may assist you in determining your purpose, but so can writing.
Curiosity in one’s own life often leads to a sense of Purpose. What challenges have you faced? What qualities helped you overcome them? How did others assist you? How have your abilities aided in making others’ lives better?
“We all have the potential to create a story out of our own lives,” says Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning, published in 2017. “It offers us clarity on our own lives, how to comprehend ourselves, and provides us with a framework that extends beyond the day-to-day and essentially helps us make sense of our experiences.”
That is why Amber Cantorna authored Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering God’s True Love. Amber was first despondent after losing everyone she loved, but she quickly found new qualities in herself, and she is now using her book to help develop Beyond, a nonprofit organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians in their coming-out journey.
According to one 2008 research, persons who perceive significance and purpose in their life may relate a tale of development and progress in which they overcame hurdles. In other words, writing a story like Amber’s may help us identify our own talents and how utilizing those talents may make a difference in the world, increasing our feeling of self-efficacy.
This is an useful introspective process for everyone, but Amber went it a step further by writing her autobiography and using it to effect societal change. Amber’s purpose now is to make those like her feel less alone.
“My feeling of purpose has increased significantly as a result of my desire to tell my story—and the understanding that so many other individuals have traveled the same path I have.”