Life Purpose: What Is It and How to Find It?

Learn more about the science of purpose so you can create a more purpose-driven life.

As far back as the fourth century BC, Aristotle was pondering life’s purpose and developing his theory of teleology, or the idea that everything in life has purpose. In today’s fast-paced, technology-filled world where we are being pulled in many directions at once, finding the purpose of life seems more important than ever.

What Is Life Purpose?

Life purpose is defined as having set goals and a direction for one's life. Many of us think of life purpose and meaning in life as the same thing, but they are slightly different. More specifically, it's thought that life purpose, or engaging in purpose-driven behaviors, is just one thing that contributes to a meaningful life.

When you have purpose in your life, you likely feel good about the way you are living your life. You might feel that there is some ultimate reason for your actions and that you are contributing to the world in some important way. This gives you a sense of satisfaction and connectedness which can help you reach higher levels of well-being.

Having a purpose in life is one of the fundamental factors of happiness. Without it, you’ll live your life less focused, less efficient and you’ll often feel restless and stressed because you don’t feel aligned with the things you do. This article is about different purposes in life, with actual examples and how you can define your purpose in life.

Finding a Life Purpose

So how do you find your life purpose (or purposes)? First, it's important to keep in mind that you can have more than one purpose. You can have lots, and the more the better. To start finding your purposes, ask yourself these questions:

1. What pain, injustice, or problem do you really want to be solved?

This question can help you discover what really matters to you. Once you know this, start setting goals and intentions for how you'll help solve this problem. This doesn't have to be anything big. For example, if you really want the world to be a nicer place, you can start making it that way by practicing random acts of kindness in your daily life.

2. What activities energize you?

Your answer to this question can further point to your life purpose because when you are in alignment with your life purpose, you feel energized and may even experience the state of flow—an experience where you're so immersed in what you're doing that you become fully present and may even lose track of time.

3. What are you willing to sacrifice for?

The things that give us life purpose are usually the things that matter so much to us that we're willing to sacrifice other important things like leisure time or money. So what are the things, people, or projects that you're are willing to sacrifice for?

4. Who do you want to help?

The thing about happiness is that if we become overly focused on ourselves and our own happiness, we're actually less happy. That's why it's so important to disconnect for a moment from your desire to find your purpose. Instead, shift your focus onto how you can help others. Ask yourself who can you help, how can you help, and who do you want to help? Start small if you need to—offer to help a friend, give a compliment, bake cookies for your coworkers, or say thanks to the store clerk. Figuring out how you can help others in ways that are meaningful to you is the key to finding life purpose.

What Else Gives People Life Purpose? ​

These seven things can further contribute to life purpose:

1. Social Connection. Creating meaningful connections with others is a great way to increase life purpose while also boosting health and happiness.

2. Achievement. ​Achieving important goals, especially purpose-driven goals, is helpful for enhancing purpose.

3. Self-expression. Expressing ourselves, our emotions, our opinions, and ideas is helpful for purpose.

4. Excitement. Fun, joy, and excitement help life feel more enjoyable and purposeful.

5. Impact. When we positively impact the lives of others, we boost our sense of purpose.

6. Personal growth. When we work on improving ourselves in ways that matter to us, we can increase our sense of purpose.

7. Recognition. Admiration can give us a feeling that we are valued and are living a life of purpose.

How to Find Your Purpose

After reflecting on the drivers of purpose that we've discussed above, you may want to write a personal purpose statement or mission statement. Having a personal purpose statement can help you make decisions that are in accordance with your values and goals, and it can help you stay on track.

Here are some guidelines:

1. Start by thinking about who you are and who you want to become.

2. Clarify your most important goals. Try to think of your community-oriented goals rather than self-focused goals.

3. Identify your greatest strengths and how you can apply these to your goals.

4. Think about the mark you want to make on the world.

What Life Purpose Feels Like

Finding your purpose feels a lot like finding yourself. You know who you are, what you are meant to do, and nothing can stop you from doing it. You might suddenly not care what other people think because you're doing something so important to you that no one could convince you otherwise. And pursuing your purpose doesn't require that you be successful because it's the journey that matters more than the destination.

Living your purpose feels like walking a path that is only yours. So you might have to step off the path you're currently on. You might need to figure out your own special way forward. That's why pursuing your life purpose can be scary. Others may doubt you; you may even doubt yourself. But somewhere deep inside you, you know what feels right and what doesn't feel right. 

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