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Finding your purpose

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It’s one of those philosophical questions you can go around and around endlessly. Some people do. On the other hand, you might have dismissed it as an impossible question to answer. What is your purpose in life?

But it does seem that it could be a question well worth asking yourself. According to many experts, searching for, identifying, and finding your purpose might instead boost your sense of well-being, physical and mental health.

This may be particularly important during these unusual times, where worries over finances, social distancing and isolation are impacting on our physical and mental well-being.

A life of purpose

A programme on BBC’s Radio 4 highlighted a quote from the American author Robert Byrne: “The purpose of life is a life of purpose”.

A sense of purpose – knowing and understanding your aims and ambitions – is what encourages you to get up in the mornings. If you approach the coming day with purpose, it energises your sense of direction, paints a picture of where you fit into the scheme of things and so, allows you to connect meaningfully with the world around you.

A sense of purpose gives you a focus on what you want to achieve and, in working towards those goals, you derive satisfaction from the achievement.

According to the BBC’s report, people are happier, healthier, and less stressed when they know they are contributing to some bigger purpose or goal.

An article in the Telegraph newspaper on the 18th of November 2019 also found that you are likely to sleep better if you have a sense of purpose. The story cited academic research involving an eight-year study of more than 9,000 individuals who were asked about their sense of well-being – as defined by whether they felt in control of their lives, believed whatever they were doing was worthwhile, and whether they had a sense of purpose.

One of the more remarkable findings was that people who scored highly on those tests of well-being were 30% less likely to die during the eight-year survey period and shared the likelihood of living an average of two years longer than those who had returned lower feelings of well-being.

The association between mortality and a sense of purpose in life was also drawn in reports by the National Health Service (NHS) on other studies which followed around 6,000 participants over a 14-year period. In this survey, the participants were scored on their answers to three purpose-oriented statements, along the following lines:

  • I’m not the kind of person who just drifts aimlessly through life;
  • I tend not to think about the future but take each day as it comes; and
  • I sometimes get the feeling I’ve already done practically all there is to do in life.

Participants were scored on how they responded to each of these statements, and death rates were studied over the next 14 years. Those who scored lowest on the purpose-oriented questions were the ones most likely to have died during this period.

Finding your purpose

Everything points to the importance of finding your purpose in life, therefore – whether that is a purpose in meeting everyday challenges or some long-term goals in life. What are some of the behaviours that might encourage such discoveries?

About you

  • what actually interests and motivates you in life – what actions or behaviours make you feel good or lend what you’re doing a sense of satisfaction;
  • how would you describe your main talents, strengths, and interests – and how closely do these compare with what others would have to say about you;
  • if you could do or achieve anything at all in the world, what would that be – why and how would achieving it make you feel;
  • have you identified any preconceptions you might want to look at again – and change;

Role models

  • picture the people you most admire, ask yourself about their values and what they spend most of their time doing;
  • do they represent a lifestyle, system of values and behaviours that you’d like to adopt, too – if so, what would you need to change or reinforce about your own way of living;

Monitor and watch yourself

  • become more conscious of the decisions you are making in your everyday life – at the end of the day, jot down what you have done, what has been a success and what remains a target for another day;
  • you might even turn your daily notes and jottings into some kind of “autobiography” that fleshes out the reasons for the decisions you have made and the direction your life is taking;

Innovation

  • if you have not yet discovered your purpose in life, then doing much the same thing day in and day out is unlikely to remove the scales from your eyes;
  • take on new tasks, open yourself to new experiences, or simply commit to looking at the world through new and different angles;

Reflection

  • if others have provided a role model – through the values they espouse or the lifestyles they have adopted – imagine that you are writing a letter of thanks to them for the direction they have shown and the teaching they have given you.

If you are looking for a purpose in your life, you may soon discover that there is no single silver bullet with a unified and permanent answer. Your purpose is almost certain to be dynamic, open to change, and to reflect the new experiences you encounter as you go through life.

This data is correct as at the time of writing.

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