“I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose… When you connect with that purpose, and move forward with love and compassion, that’s when everything unfolds.“ – Ellen DeGeneres
I don’t know about you, but with the new year, my email was bombarded with suggestions about how to gain clarity this year and what to do to ‘unclutter’ and find peace. So as I meditated on what I want to focus on for 2019, what became clear for me was that it wasn’t how to unclutter or which new app I could buy to find peace, but instead I wanted to hone in on my purpose for this year. That sounds grandiose and overwhelming as I write it, but with so much ‘stuff’ out there, so much info and paths that I could take, I need to narrow my focus and check in with what really resonates for me.
Buddha has been quoted as saying:
Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.
And this has been adapted and misquoted as:
Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.
I don’t think there would be many people who disagree that finding one’s purpose is essential in one’s life. And I think finding purpose in my mid to later life is much different than when I was younger. In youth, there was a sense of spaciousness, a sense that I could trial different pathways and see what I liked, what made me feel alive. These days, there is much less time to waste. I’m 61 (still young enough… but don’t want to waste the time I do have) and I feel more of a sense of urgency. As Bonnie Raitt so succinctly puts it:
Life gets mighty precious
When there’s less of it to waste
It’s not just that having a sense of purpose adds to one’s well being, although research shows that that is true. It’s more than that. Having a sense of purpose improves health, fulfilment, and can even help you live longer. In a nutshell, finding your sense of purpose has the potential to change everything!
So Ok, we can all agree, it’s an important mission. But it’s huge! How do we even start? Is there a signpost or light to follow?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten in my life is to follow my heart. I think of it like, there’s a guiding compass inside of me that always knows which direction to go. An inner voice that knows what’s right. I just need to tune into it and trust it.
I agree, that is great advice . . . but how exactly do we do that? I researched this and came across a lot of articles so tried to synthesise the info into the top 3 suggestions:
- READ – The most common suggestion that came through is to read. Read as much as you can about as many things that interest you as you can. Read books by people that you admire, read about things that you are curious about. Books are so readily available; choose reading over digital distraction.
- SERVE – So many studies suggest that service to others is one of the best ways to find a sense of purpose. Helping others is associated with a meaningful, purposeful life. In one study, Daryl Van Tongeren et al found that people, who volunteer and/or donate money, tend to have a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Professor Anne Colby has researched and written about purpose and well being for many years. And she has found that one’s well being increases when one is purposeful beyond oneself.
There is significantly higher well being in people who were involved in pursuing beyond-the-self goals, compared to those who were pursuing other types of goals. In other words, engaging in prosocial goals had more impact on well being than engaging in non-prosocial goals.
- CULTIVATE awe and gratitude. The research is clear, cultivating awe, and gratitude absolutely connects us to our sense of purpose. Several studies conducted by the Greater Good Science Center’s Dacher Keltner have shown that the experience of awe makes us feel connected to something larger than ourselves—and so can provide the emotional foundation for a sense of purpose. And research on gratitude consistently shows a correlation between feeling grateful and well-being and a stronger sense of purpose.
But it’s important that we don’t just plan and think about it, but to focus and take action!
“The dynamic process of aligning yourself with your life purpose requires energy and willpower: wind in your sails to move you forward, and a strong rudder to prevent being blown off course.”
I believe as Og Mandino puts it:
I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.
So taking action . . . I decided that 2019 is my year to start and to focus on my next book. The idea scares me; I know how much energy the process of writing takes, and even more, the energy and work that is required getting the book out there. It is daunting, but I know it is a huge part of my purpose – to write and connect with others. And so I am committed to grow into that mountain, not shrink to a grain of sand, so I shall commit to this focus for this year.
I am curious, how shall you move toward your sense of purpose this year? What are you doing to grow into the mountain you are meant to be?