Success? Money? Happiness? Excitement? Peace?

Each of these things drive each of us to a lesser or greater degree. But there is something that rarely appears on these types of lists that may be even more important: having a sense of purpose.

Having a purpose in life means that you find meaning in something you do and goals that direct you towards it. This isn’t specific to the workplace, it can be any aspect of your life whether it is in your job, home life, community or other.

You may find meaning in your role as a parent, a friend, a sibling or a spouse. Your relationships with other people and caring for those people when they need you may be what gives your life meaning.

Or it may be your work. You know that your role in the workplace, no matter how small or big, is an important cog that keeps everything running smoothly. Your purpose may be doing that job to the best of your abilities whether for the work itself or to support colleagues.

Why is purpose so important? Well, multiple studies have shown that having a purpose in life is hugely protective when it comes to health. People with a stronger purpose in life are less likely to suffer from depression [1], have a lower risk of heart attacks [3] and are even less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease [3].

It’s not yet entirely clear why but recent research suggests that it may be to do with stress. One group of researchers found that people who have a higher purpose in life are better at recovering emotionally from seeing something negative than those without a sense of purpose [4]. Having a purpose in life may help people to reframe stressful situations and therefore build resilience.

All of us have parts of our lives that we find meaningful and others that we don’t. If you feel a strong purpose in life – that’s great. It is likely to not only protect your psychological well-being but also your health.

However, there are many times in our lives where we don’t feel a sense of purpose and that’s ok. We all go through phases that are more meaningful than others.

If you feel that it has been a while since you had a goal or a sense of purpose it may be worth taking stock. Is there something that you would like to do that feels important to you? It doesn’t have to be a dramatic change. It may be trying out a volunteering activity that you’ve been interested in but never done. It may be reacquainting yourself with something you used to find meaning in but which you have let slip. Or it may be taking the first step towards a career aspiration that you have harboured but not acted on.

As one researcher put it “happiness is everything, or is it?” [5]. Sometimes having a sense of purpose is just as, if not more, important for your overall well-being.


  1. Wood, A. M., & Joseph, S. (2010). The absence of positive psychological (eudemonic) well-being as a risk factor for depression: A ten year cohort study. Journal of affective disorders, 122(3), 213-217.
  2. Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: Connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions-Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences, 1383-1394.
  3. Boyle, P. A., Buchman, A. S., Barnes, L. L., & Bennett, D. A. (2010). Effect of a purpose in life on risk of incident Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older persons. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 67(3), 304-310.
  4. Schaefer, S. M., Boylan, J. M., Van Reekum, C. M., Lapate, R. C., Norris, C. J., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli. PLoS One, 8(11), e80329.
  5. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069.

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