How Does Our Sense of Purpose Affect Our Well-being?
Posted on December 22, 2023
Finding your purpose in life may sound like a nice-to-have, but it's more important than you realize. Purpose is the fuel that guides and sustains you, day to day and through the years. It grounds you and offers a sense of direction even when the world turns upside down. A life driven by purpose feels alive, clear, and authentic, contributing to physical, mental, and emotional wellness. For example, a study in Psychosomatic Medicine concluded that when people have a greater sense of purpose, they are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and lower mortality.
And while having a life with purpose sounds excellent, attaining it can be challenging. This is because purpose is less of a specific goal and more of a continuous impact on the world, large or small. In this blog, we dive into what purpose is and how it affects our well-being and even our choice of food.
What Is Purpose?
Your 'why' is your purpose. The goals and aims motivate you to do what you do every day. Purpose guides your life decisions, influences behavior, defines goals, and provides a sense of direction while creating meaning. The purpose will be different for everyone and can shift and change throughout your life in response to evolving priorities and the fluctuations of your experiences.
Having a purpose makes you feel good about how you lead your life. You gain fulfillment from your actions and the sense that you contribute to the world uniquely. This gives you the feeling of satisfaction and connectedness that can help you reach higher levels of well-being. When you find purpose, it is a lot like finding yourself. You know who you are, why you do what you do, and are committed to doing it at all costs. It is also essential to know that you can have multiple purposes.
The meaning of purpose has been explored through various avenues, such as religion, music, art, and philosophy. However, purpose is a very subjective and exclusive experience, and how one derives its meaning is directly tied to one's values and beliefs of what is essential. Your purpose is unique to you as your fingerprint. You have your own set of talents, experiences, and interests that bring you joy and fulfillment. And while your purpose is related to these, it is also your reason for being. The motivation gets you out of bed in the morning, even when the day is dreary. However, purpose alone, no matter how strong, is not sustainable, and that is why, ideally, your purpose has to blend with your interests and what brings you joy. In Japan, this concept is called ikigai.
Ikigai encourages you to define your personal meaning of purpose by taking stock of what brings you joy and how you can serve the wider world. You find your ikigai at the intersection of multiple factors in your life. The four essential components of the concept include mission, passion, profession, and talent. This means looking at what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. According to the philosophy, a personalized sense of purpose leads to a more fulfilling life and increased longevity. It also appreciates that your sense of purpose may change over time, highlighting the importance of re-evaluating it occasionally.
Philosophical Perspectives on Purpose
Several philosophers have proposed answers and theories to the age-old question: What is the purpose of life? The search for purpose in life has been a central theme in philosophy from ancient times to today. Different philosophical traditions provide different perspectives on life's purpose and how to achieve it. Some of the most common ones include:
Ancient Greek Philosophy
The great Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that everything has a purpose or goal. For humans, the aim is reaching a state of ultimate happiness or Eudaimonia. According to Aristotle, happiness is achieving health, wealth, knowledge, and friends while keeping ethics in mind. Ethics, in this case, means being true to yourself and others. Although humans are inclined to find the purpose of life in desirable things, Aristotle's life purpose is to be compassionate with yourself and others. He points out that humans are gifted with intellect, which makes us different from other species. We should, therefore, use our intelligence and rationale to cultivate virtues such as wisdom, courage, and temperance to flourish and attain happiness.
Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, explain that life's purpose is to live according to nature and reason. These philosophers believe that the key to meaningful life is to foster inner virtues such as wisdom, courage, and self-discipline and develop resilience in the face of adversity. The Stoic approach to the purpose of life helps you identify what you can and cannot control. It heightens your self-awareness and empowers you to encounter adversaries and face failures with a relaxed, calm, collected, and composed demeanor.
According to existentialism, humans are free agents, and individuals are responsible for defining their values, goals, and meaning. Existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Friedrich Nietzsche argue that life has no inherent meaning. There is no divine intervention, fate, or supernatural forces that push you in a particular direction. Instead, every decision you make is yours; you create your purpose through your actions.
The philosophy of existentialism emphasizes individual freedom and choice and the search for meaning and purpose in life. It also recognizes that we are all unique within our own subjective experiences and encourages us to live in a way that is true to ourselves while taking ownership and responsibility for our lives and choices.
Utilitarian philosophers argue that the purpose of life lies in encouraging actions that foster happiness and well-being for the most significant number of people and opposing those that cause harm or unhappiness. Utilitarianism aims for the betterment of society as a whole.
Psychological Perspectives on Purpose
Psychology provides valuable insights into human behavior, happiness, and well-being, helping us understand the factors contributing to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Positive psychology studies human flourishing and explores resilience, purpose, and social connections. Research shows that individuals who engage in activities that align with their purpose maintain strong social bonds, develop a sense of gratitude and mindfulness, and lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Some psychological theories or definitions on purpose include:
This concept views life purpose as a basic human need that arises from the desire for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. With the proper support, embracing these principles enables us to set and achieve goals aligned with our values and beliefs. The concept was developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, and its core suggests that our purpose is driven by a need to grow and gain fulfillment.
According to SDT, you can experience growth and satisfaction when your core needs are met. These core needs are connected to different forms of motivation, and each uniquely fulfills your sense of self. What motivates you as a person can either be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is part of your ethics, beliefs, and values. In contrast, extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards like money and awards or physical results like weight loss or improved running time.
Terror Management Theory
Terror Management Theory holds that fear of death influences human behavior and thought. The idea that we will one day die provokes the need to be significant and have a purpose while we are still alive. When we think about death, the next thing that comes up is what we have done with our lives. This awareness of impending death influences our choices and defines how we interact with others.
Cultural Influences on Purpose
Culture places certain expectations on people that can make it difficult for you to stay true to your purpose. Your nature may be incompatible with your culture, which puts you at a crossroads on what beliefs and values to pursue. Culture often teaches us what to want in life. For example, your culture may teach you that seeking wealth, status, or success, however defined, will make you happy. However, after trying to achieve those things, you realize they don't make you happier. This is because the goals your culture advocates for do not align with your nature.
Culture is a fundamental aspect of human society. It encompasses a wide range of shared beliefs, values, and norms usually passed down from generation to generation. It also gives us a sense of belonging and identity, which is critical to our well-being and happiness. However, it can also lead you to be someone you are not.
Defining Your Values and Beliefs to Inform Your Purpose
The search for one's purpose in life is a universal quest for bringing meaning, fulfillment, and motivation into our lives. To find purpose, you first need to establish your values and beliefs. Our values are the principles we believe in and the standards we live by. They form the core of who we are and what we stand for. To establish your core values, here are some steps you can take:
- Reflect on your past experiences and think of moments that made you proud, satisfied, and faithful to yourself. What values were you honoring in those moments?
- List values that resonate with you and define you.
- Test out the values you have identified as you go about your day by seeing how your actions can align with them.
Other ways to help you discover your purpose include self-reflection, journaling, and engaging in new experiences through traveling, volunteering, or workshops. Another powerful approach is practicing meditation and mindfulness. You can consult life coaches and therapists to facilitate introspection into your life's purpose.
At the end of it all, remember that purpose is more than just a statement. It works like a compass, directing you to your most authentic self and deepest desires. Your purpose, therefore, needs to be specific, actionable, and concise, and you should also be open to feedback about it and be willing to refine it as you grow and evolve. Try out this quiz by Jay Shetty to help you discover your purpose.
Purpose In Different Parts of Life: Relationships, Work, Etc.
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of life is not a single, uniform concept but a masterpiece of meanings woven together by our thoughts, actions, and intentions. It is an intricate balance between finding and using our passions to contribute to the greater good. Purpose is about seeking joy not just for ourselves but for others as well. Some common areas of life that can give you purpose include:
Family and Relationships
Happy and healthy relationships with friends and family provide the foundation for overall success and well-being. To stay in tune with your goals, it is vital to maintain harmonious relationships and limit the amount of time you spend with negative people. Through interacting with family and friends, you discover unique ways of looking at things, which can also help you grow. Also, positive interactions and creating intimacy through sharing feelings, goals, and failures promote happiness. Other examples of finding purpose in relationships include being intentional and attentive, expressing gratitude and appreciation, and celebrating and cherishing moments like anniversaries.
Career and Work
The average adult spends about 1800 hours per year working. Career is a top priority for most people because it's the primary source of income. Focusing on progressing your career gives you something to aim for and fulfills you. Some ways to find purpose at work include cultivating better working relationships with colleagues, acquiring new skills, and considering the legacy you want to leave behind.
Health and wellness
It is almost impossible to isolate health and wellness from other areas of your life since it influences everyone and vice versa. For example, if you are not feeling your best, you will not put effort into your career, relationships, or other initiatives that bring you fulfillment. Therefore, you reach your purpose by improving your health and general wellness so that you can inevitably gain in all areas of your life.
Finding purpose in health and wellness involves creating lasting habits and finding unwavering motivation that gets you going even when things are tough.
Whether you believe in a greater power or spiritual practices like meditation, tapping into them can help align you with your purpose. Staying in tune with your spirituality brings you closer to your true self, helping you discover and reach your goal in life. You can meditate, journal, or engage in other practices that nourish your spirituality, like reading the bible.
Contribution to the World
You can find purpose by identifying ways to contribute to the greater good of those around you. This could be through volunteer work or helping the less fortunate. Your contribution to the world can be through donating time, money, or talent.
How Healthy Food Fits into Purpose
Purpose drives us to become the best version of ourselves to attain fulfillment and happiness. You must nurture your mind, body, and soul to become your healthiest and happiest version. Part of nurturing the body and mind is our relationship with food. How do your food choices resonate with your purpose?
According to a new study from the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School, having a solid purpose in life has been strongly associated with good health. It gives you motivation to want to improve and maintain good health by focusing on habits and food choices that make you feel great and give you the energy to pursue your goals. How you show up for yourself and nurture your body, mind, and soul determines your well-being.
Living your purpose fills your existence with happiness, connection, and fulfillment. Laird Superfoods supports your well-being, providing you with healthy food choices that fuel you to pursue your purpose. Start eating purposefully with our conscious food selections designed to fuel the best version of yourself.