Let’s face it: everyone wants to live a purposeful life.

If you’ve ever perused the self-help aisle, it’s easy to see we crave purpose. We want money, happiness, success, good relationships, great sex, a 401k, celebrity status, endless materialistic objects, infinite wisdom, and to look and feel great while doing it.

We want all of the things we buy, the jobs we work, the time we dedicate to goals, taxes, deadlines, family and friends to add up to one thing…a life of meaning.

And yet, the very thing we struggle to maintain — that innate sense of purpose — often gets buried under the other million “tasks” we have identified as part of our life’s plan.

That old adage “you can have it all” has been reworked to really mean: “Sure, you can have it all, including disease, stress, overwhelm, and a sense of too many choices without one ounce of true purpose or ways to measure if you ever really got what you ultimately wanted.”

(And this goes so much further than how many zeros you have in your bank account.)

But wait. We all have purpose…right? A purpose to get up in the morning. A purpose to go to work. A purpose around relationships, career, goals, health, love, and happiness. But what if our true purpose — independent of what society wants or grooms us for — gets buried by stagnant routines, repeated patterns and behaviors, detrimental “noise,” constant distractions, impossible choices, and overall poor motivation? What if we have yet to really unlock the true potential of what it means to live with purpose and to maximize our potential?

Endless research is devoted around the notion of purpose. In a study by Harvard School of Public Health, studies have found that if you feel you have a sense of purpose (i.e. meaning, direction, and goals), you are far more likely to remain healthy and physically strong as you age.

Great, so how do we get there?

These 4 questions will help.

  1. What do you truly believe in? So many of our opinions are learned from parents and society. We are heavily influenced by others in what we think, feel, and believe (sometimes unknowingly so). If you strip everything away, what’s at the core of who you really are? Identify your values — at work, at home, in relationships — and assess what it is that actually matters to you. Is it your faith (what elements of your faith do you truly believe)? Do you believe your achievements will satisfy you once you accomplish them, or is it the character and discipline you must show to achieve them? Are your beliefs making the world better for you, your family, and your community? Be honest with yourself and figure out what you believe in. You might be surprised by the answers. Once you have them, think how you can incorporate them intentionally into your lifestyle.
  2. What do you relentlessly fight for? We all have causes we believe in. (And unfortunately, these days, we have many things to fight for.) If you look back on the landscape of your life, what’s a common thread that weaves it all together? Have you always spoken up for equality? Have you relentlessly volunteered at children’s hospitals? Do you consistently give to the homeless? Perhaps it’s better education, common-sense gun control, or even animal rights. Whatever it is, this “insight” serves your bigger purpose and shows you a path of how to think outside of yourself.
  3. What do you passionately pursue? We sometimes feel we need to follow our passions to live a meaningful life. Our work needs to reflect our passion, right? Not necessarily. While passion is critical to fulfillment, it doesn’t always translate to a career. (And that’s okay.) What do you find yourself constantly drawn back to…to read, to improve, or to engage? If you could spend all day doing just one thing, what would it be? Once you have that answer, make time for your passion, whether volunteering, learning, running. Or working on your side-hustle. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing attitude in terms of translating your passion into work. You can make time for both (and should) — even if it’s just 20 minutes a day. You just have to know what you want to pursue first.
  4. How do you yearn to feel? If we take inventory of how we feel on any given day, words like stressed, tired, or busy might come to mind. We so often feel this way because we are pursuing a goal that we haven’t yet realized. We think once we get that goal, we will feel happy, appreciated, or successful, so we keep pursuing our goal and ultimately those feelings. Why is this the norm? Instead, start your day by purposefully determining how you want to feel. Then, take a few simple actions to incorporate those feeling into your days. You can be happy even if you have deadlines and a million errands to run. You can feel grateful even if you are low in your bank account. Focus any amount of extra energy on how you want to feel instead of how you don’t want to feel. It will shift the trajectory of your days into better territory.

Remember: we all have purpose. But living blindly from day-to-day without awareness of who you really are or what it is you really want doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself.

Do the work. Find the answers.

It’s worth it.

Originally published at medium.com