Finding Your Life Purpose

Ray Williams
11 min readApr 22, 2024
Image: Pinterest

Most of us spend our lives caught up in the day-to-day demands, making choices without considering their implications. Rarely do we pause to contemplate our life’s purpose. If we did take a moment to reflect, we might find ourselves pondering questions like: “Why am I here on Earth?” “What am I meant to accomplish?” “Is it more important to be happy or to live a meaningful and purposeful life?” “How can I define my purpose?”

Exploring these questions is not merely a philosophical endeavor; it has practical implications.

Defining Life Purpose

Life purpose varies widely among individuals. For some, it may be a spiritual calling, particularly those with deep spiritual beliefs. Others might view it as a divine command, while for some, it might act as a personal moral compass, reflecting individual identity and direction.

Purpose is the underlying motivation for our actions; it gets us out of bed each morning. It guides our decisions, molds our behavior, shapes our goals, provides direction, and infuses our lives with meaning. Each person’s purpose is unique and may evolve as priorities and life circumstances change.

Those with a clear sense of purpose align their priorities accordingly and make daily advancements towards their goals. They lead balanced lives, investing time and energy in what matters most to them. Living with passion is a hallmark of those who have found their purpose. Having a sense of purpose is essential; without it, we can become demotivated and despondent. Research suggests that contributing to a broader purpose can enhance life satisfaction and increase resilience to stress, even in the workplace.

Understanding and articulating your life purpose serves as a compass, guiding both personal and professional choices and fostering a more meaningful and conscious existence.

Many people struggle with purpose. According to a New York Times article, only about a quarter of Americans have a clear sense of purpose. In a Harvard Business Review article, Nick Craig and Scott Snook noted, “We’ve found that fewer than 20 per cent of leaders have a strong sense of their purpose. Even fewer can distil their purpose into a concrete statement.” According to an Edward Jones report, 31 per cent of new retirees say they’ve struggled to find a sense of purpose in retirement.

Much of the pain and suffering in the world, including numerous mental health issues, stems from a lack of purpose. Even with a loving family, a successful career, and enjoyable friendships and experiences, we may still feel an emptiness. Often, this void is due to the absence of purpose. According to some workplace experts, this lack of purpose is a driving force behind the “Great Resignation” and widespread workplace disengagement.

There often needs to be more clarity about the nature of purpose, which is frequently mistaken for passion, meaning, or calling. Purpose, as defined by William Damon, a professor at Stanford University and author of The Path to Purpose, is “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond self.” This definition highlights that purpose transcends individual interests and contributes to something larger.

Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better, differentiates between two types of purpose:

1. “BIG P” Purpose, which refers to committing to a noble cause or lifelong dedication.

2. “little p” purpose involves everyday decisions about how to contribute to the well-being of others. It’s important to recognize that actions driven by “little p” purpose are equally significant and can build up to create substantial impact over time.

Philosophers, scientists, and spiritual leaders have long debated the essence of a fulfilling life. They ponder whether a life should be rich with happiness or imbued with purpose, questioning if these concepts are distinct.

Consider the human rights activist who pursues justice but finds happiness even in imprisonment or the social butterfly who flits from one party to another. Are these pursuits contributing to a ‘good life’?

These questions are not just academic; they guide us in allocating our time and efforts to craft our desired lives.

Meaning is often defined as having “a sense of importance or purpose.” This encompasses existential questions like “Why are we here?” “What is life all about?” and “What is the purpose of existence?”

Purpose, however, involves establishing goals and a direction for one’s life. While closely related, many conflate life’s purpose and meaning, though they are distinct. A purpose-driven life, or habits motivated by purpose, is thought to contribute to a meaningful existence.

Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, asserts, “a happy life and a meaningful life have certain differences,” supported by a study he co-authored with colleagues from Stanford and the University of Minnesota, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

In their research involving 397 adults, Baumeister and his team explored correlations between happiness, meaning, and various aspects of life such as behavior, mood, relationships, health, stress levels, work, and other activities.

They found that purpose and happiness don’t always coincide and sought to distinguish the elements that contribute to a meaningful yet not necessarily happy life, and vice versa.

Their findings revealed that happiness correlates with health, financial stability, and comfort, whereas these factors don’t necessarily relate to meaning. They identified five key differences between a happy life and a meaningful one:

  1. Satisfying personal desires contributes to happiness but doesn’t significantly impact the experience of meaning. Thus, happiness was associated with health, wealth, and comfort, but these were irrelevant to meaning.
  2. Meaning involves a broader temporal perspective, integrating past, present, and future, whereas happiness focuses on the present. Meaning is also perceived as more enduring than happiness.
  3. Happiness often stems from receiving from others, while meaning arises from giving to others. Social connections foster both happiness and meaning, but the benefits of relationships, such as friendships, tend to align more with happiness. In contrast, contributions to others, like caring for family, are linked more with meaning.
  4. Engaging with life’s challenges tends to enhance meaning but may reduce happiness. Higher stress and worry are associated with more meaningful lives but less happiness.
  5. Expressing one’s identity and creativity tends to enrich meaning without necessarily enhancing happiness. Wisdom and creativity are linked to meaning rather than happiness.

These insights not only distinguish between living happily and living meaningfully but also help us understand how to enrich our lives in profound, lasting ways.

In 2010, Victor Strecher, a behavioural scientist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, lost his daughter, age 19, who had been battling a rare heart ailment for years, to an unexpected heart attack. His ideas about what life should be about and how to live it was upended by her vulnerability and eventual death, which inspired him to write a book titled Life on Purpose.

The book is a contemplative, occasionally inspirational, investigation of the nature of purpose. It considers how philosophers have long discussed the connection between happiness and meaning and also presents inspiring tales of people who have found their mission. It incorporates Strecher’s insights as well as those of other people who have discovered their calling and altered the course of their lives.

The book also surveys the recently emerging field of purpose science. Strecher claims that the strength of one’s life purpose, which entails living by one’s values and goals and making an effort to positively impact the world, can be measured and strongly correlates with psychological wellness and even indicators of physical health and longevity.

For instance, research has shown that persons with heart disease have a 27 percent lower risk of suffering a heart attack over two years for every one-point rise on a six-point scale evaluating purpose in life. A one-point difference in purpose can result in a 22 percent lower risk of stroke in older persons.

Although it’s unclear how having a purpose in life would have these effects, there is likely some relationship with stress, which has already been demonstrated to influence our cells.

Viktor Frankl once said that finding significance in our lives directly impacts our mental health. Complementary research, like the one published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2019, supports this. A purpose directly affects physical health, psychological equilibrium, self-esteem, and emotional processing, according to a study by doctors Ying Chen and Erik Kim. These objectives and their significance to individuals’ lives serve as an internal support system that lifts burdens sifts through fears, and restores equilibrium and optimism.

In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that having a purpose is having a set desire in your mind that leads you toward something meaningful to you, something that even goes beyond yourself.

Giving someone else a hand would be an illustration of this. A book, music, or work of art are examples of things you could make to inspire others. It might involve gaining more knowledge about a particular subject or field. Bringing joy to your family or caring for those you love would also be terrific goals.

Your Purpose: Discovering It and Developing It for a Meaningful Life

People have different ideas of what their life’s work is. According to one study, there are four categories of purpose according to Patrick L. Hill’s research study published in Psychological Science. These kinds include:.

  • Defined as a tendency to assist others and have an impact on social structures
  • Described as having aesthetic objectives and a flair for creativity.
  • Described as objectives for achieving administrative and financial success.
  • Individual recognition. Described as a person’s yearning for approval and respect from peers.

The degree to which each of these forms of aim is pursued varies among people. But the wisest course of action is to concentrate our efforts on prosocial purposes if our objective is to improve happiness and well-being. Get involved in initiatives that benefit others, in particular, and try to “give back” in ways that matter to you.

Putting Purpose into Action

What then is your life’s purpose, if any? First of all, it’s crucial to remember that you might have multiple goals. There are plenty available, and the more the better. Consider these inquiries as you begin to discover your purposes:

1. What suffering, injustice, or issue do you sincerely wish could be resolved? Use this question to determine what is most important to you. Once you know this, start making plans and goals for how you will contribute to solving this issue. This needs to be a manageable undertaking. For instance, if you genuinely want to improve the world, you can commit random acts of kindness throughout your day.

2. What activities give you energy? When you align with your life purpose, you feel energized and may even enter a state of flow, which is a state of being so absorbed in what you’re doing that you become fully present and may even lose track of time. Your response to this question can further point to your life purpose.

3. What are you prepared to make sacrifices for? Typically, the things that give us meaning in life are so important that we are willing to put aside less important things like leisure time or money. What causes, people, or things are you prepared to sacrifice?

4. Whom are you hoping to assist? The thing about happiness is that when you put too much emphasis on your pleasure, you end up being less happy. For this reason, it’s crucial to disengage from your search for your purpose briefly. Change your attention to how you can assist others. Think about whom you can help, how you can help, and whom you want to help. If necessary, start small. Offer to assist a buddy, compliment someone, make cookies for your workplace, or express gratitude to the store clerk. The secret to discovering your life’s purpose is figuring out how you can serve others in ways that are significant to you.

5. What’s your life story? Write your personal story to date and find the themes that animate our lives, including what you loved doing when you were young and the meaning you’ve derived from the pivotal moments and adversity you’ve faced.

A Process to Develop Your Life Purpose

The following steps and prompts can assist you in developing your life purpose statement.

Step 1: Gathering information for your life purpose statement.

· List 1: 3–5 things I want most of my life.

· List 2: 3–5 things I want to see happen on the planet.

· List 3: 3–5 things I believe make me special.

· List 4: 3–5 improvements or achievements I can accomplish right now.

Step 2: Now, looking at your lists, circle the most important item from each list. Ask yourself which of these most resonates with you. Making a single choice can sometimes be difficult, so be willing to sit with your thoughts and feelings for a while.

Step 3: Write down the top 4 values you have in your life. Examples: family, honesty, service, achievement, happiness, serenity, justice, wealth, fun.

Step 4: Identify a metaphor that describes you best.

· If you were an animal, what would you be?

· If you were a piece of music, what would it be?

· If you were a work of art, what would it be?

· If you were the most beautiful place in the world, what would it be?

Step 5: What are two strong beliefs that you have?

Step 6: What legacy do you want to leave when you die? Describe it in detail.

Step 7: What moral characteristics from the list below do you believe you possess and demonstrate in your life? Examples: compassion, empathy, honesty, kindness, tolerance, humility, gratitude, acceptance, integrity, respect, nonjudgment, forgiveness, patience, dependability, responsibility, support, and altruism.

Step 8: Draft a life purpose statement with elements taken from each step and question.

1. Write a statement of who you are. This should refer to your unique personal qualities and values. A metaphor can also be helpful. Examples:

· “I am a compassionate and creative woman.”

· “I am a creative entrepreneur.”

· “I am a fearless crusader.”

· “I am like a bear — a fierce protector of the weak.”

· “I am like a golden retriever — a loyal, loving friend.”

2. Write down one or two ways your qualities are expressed when interacting with others. Examples:

· “who provides non-judgmental support for others in pain.”

· “who gathers together other creative talents into a synergistic community.”

· “who is politically active in the cause of saving our environment.”

· “who is the protector of children.”

· “who provides shelter for those less fortunate.”

· “who uses wealth to help others.”

3. Indicate the impact you want to make on the world.


· “So that others can find peace within themselves.”

· “So that a community of creatives can give the world wonderful works of art in all forms.”

· “So that local governments will take action to protect our environment.”

Step 9: Putting it all together. Gathering your generated information, write your personal life purpose statement. Here’s an example:

I am a tranquil lake that provides calm to others. Family, friends, and my chosen community respect me for the kind of man I am, not my job. Through my writings, I help others find their path to a meaningful life of fulfilment and happiness. I speak and act with integrity and endeavor not to harm others or this planet.”

Final Thoughts

Articulating your personal purpose in life can be the first step in gaining greater clarity to your goals, directions and aspirations. Once you’ve done that you can work on your personal mission which is the plan you put in place to bring actualize your personal purpose. But that process is a topic for a subsequent article.

To read how finding your life purpose relates to achieving self-mastery, be sure to read my new book, The Journey to Self-Mastery: Unlocking the Secrets to Personal Transformation.



Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others