The purpose of life is a life of purpose (Robert Byrne)
Recently, a number of clients have wanted to discuss their desire to find more purpose in their life, whether related to work or other areas of life. A colleague also asked me to go to a talk in early December on purpose by Prof V Strecher, part of the ‘Thinkers in Residence’ program in Adelaide.
Plus, Christmas and the end of the year is looming, along with the need to reflect on what has been achieved in 2017, and to plan for 2018. Hence, the concept of ‘purpose’ has been on my mind a great deal of late, and this blog, in which we will explore the nature of purpose and its importance to our lives, has been inspired!
Purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done or exists. In ‘Intuition Unlock the Power’, I focused on a definition of purpose combined with that of passion, so that ‘purpose is about doing what you love and perhaps were meant to do’ (Adrienne, 1978).
So why is purpose important? Well, have you heard of ‘Blue Zones’? These refer to areas in the world where people live the longest. The characteristics of these areas have been studied, and apart from healthy lifestyles, with healthy diet/exercise and less stress, the importance of social connection and a sense of life purpose are recognized as key (Buettner, 2008).
And most importantly, according to Positive Psychology, purpose and meaning in life are inter-related, and they improve our wellbeing. The predictors of wellbeing include:
- Positive self-esteem
- Sense of perceived control
- Positive social relationships
- A sense of meaning and purpose in life (Compton, 2008).
Victor Frankl (1905–97), one of the founders of existential therapy, was Jewish and experienced Hitler’s concentration camps first-hand. He described three sources of meaning that allowed victims to survive: a life purpose, a love, or a sense of meaning through suffering (Christie-Seely, 1995). He wrote that the essence of being human could be found in the search for meaning and purpose (Corey, 2008).
Those who identify a source of meaning in their lives report greater happiness and life satisfaction, greater health, more resilience, and a greater sense of control (King, 2006). Frankl suggested that to understand our meaning and purpose we must know ourselves. Identifying what you believe is important in life (values, beliefs) is valuable in understanding your life purpose.
In his talk, Prof Strecher, also referred to purpose as being based on your values or what is important to you. For example, Mother Teresa lived a life as a nun in India for her values (including faith and service to the poor and dying). A useful exercise is to ask yourself what matters most in life in relation to:
- Family and friends
- Intimate relationships
- Health and your body
- Work, finances
- Education and personal development
- Spirituality (if relevant to you).
This exercise allows you to identify your values, and you can then attach goals to each of them, and work towards to them, maybe one by one!!
In his talk, Prof Strecher also referred to Frankl’s work, and how Frankl identified the importance of focussing on something bigger than ourselves in relation to purpose. We may want to help others, or the natural environment, or love caring for animals. The side benefit is that we benefit! He also suggested that we aim for living a ‘big life’, by which he meant living each day like it might be our last, and have a life worth living.
In ‘Intuition Unlock the Power’ I discussed some ideas to aid you in finding your purpose:
- Go back to your values!
- Be aware of thoughts which block purpose e.g. ‘I couldn’t do that’.
- Be less self-critical and recognise your strengths.
- If we follow our passion (and intuition), we will find our purpose.
- Purpose is about doing what we love and were meant to do.
- We all have strengths and gifts, so we can get closer to our purpose when we use them – find out more about your strengths at authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu
- Build your self-belief e.g. celebrate your successes.
- Trust in your abilities (Howell, 2013).
In talking with clients about purpose, I have found useful model relates to the Japanese concept of ikigai, which is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’, or a reason to enjoy life. It is said that we all have an ikigai. The model incorporates our ‘passion, mission, profession and vocation’ or in other words – what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Where all of these overlap is your ikigai! Check out the model on line (see link in the references).
Let’s finish with a useful exercise, which is to imagine that you are 80 years of age, and that you are looking back on your life as it is today. Then complete these statements:
- I spent too much time worrying about …
- I spent too little time doing things such as ….
Reflect on your answers – the questions certainly put life into perspective, and not ‘sweating the small stuff’, and focussing on the things that are important to us.
I would love to hear your thoughts on purpose, so think about sharing them on the website, or on the facebook page (Dr Cate Howell). All the best in understanding more about your purpose, and putting it into action in 2018!
Adrienne, C. 1998, The Purpose of Your Life: Finding your place in the world using synchronicity, intuition and uncommon sense, Thornsons, London.
Buettner, D. 2008, ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the people Who’ve Lived the Longest, National Geographic, USA.
Christie-Seely J. (1995). Counselling tips, techniques, and caveats. Can Fam Physician, 41, 817–25.
Compton, W. (2005). An Introduction to Positive Psychology. Wadsworth, California.
Frankl, V. E. (1959). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Pocket Books (Original work published 1946).
Howell, C. 2013, Intuition Unlock the Power, Exisle, NSW.
Winn, M. 2014, What is Your Ikigai? Retrieved 5th December, 2017 from http://theviewinside.me/what-is-your-ikigai/