Find the Purpose That’s Been Eluding You

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The Challenge:We’re all searching for our life’s purpose but don’t know where to find it.

The Science: If you have a sense of purpose, you have a happier life.

The Solution: Here’s how you can find your purpose.


People with purpose seem to fall into two categories: accomplished luminaries who have felt a particular calling their entire lives and survivors who’ve overcome insurmountable odds and now live life to the fullest. Then there are the rest of us. The ones who did not come out of the womb knowing our purpose and have yet a life-changing ‘ah ha’ moment. Research indicates that an increasing number of us crave a life of purpose. 97% of Americans feel it is important to live a purposeful life. But an even greater number of us don’t even know what we are searching for. So what exactly is purpose, why does it matter, and how can we find it?

The Meaning of Purpose

Researchers define purpose as “a cognitive process that defines life goals and provides personal meaning.” That’s science for: it’s a way of thinking about what you want to achieve and how to make sense of your life. Purpose can be as simple working towards a goal. It’s not chasing goals for personal gain but using one’s skills to contribute to the common good. So, it’s not only that you have direction but also that you are also giving something of value to society. You’re making the world a better place. You’re mattering.

Why Do We Need Purpose?

Research suggests that the more meaning and purpose people have, the better their health. In a two-year study,  heart disease patients who reported more purpose in life had a 27% lower risk of suffering a heart attack! Purpose can make you happier by reducing your negative emotions. It has also been linked to better relationships and more meaningful accomplishments.

Purpose also allows you to bounce back from adversity. One study found that cocaine addicts who have purpose in life were half as likely to relapse six months after rehab than addicts who did not have that sense of purpose. What difference does purpose make? It motivates you to be healthy! When you have purpose, you feel that your existence matters and that what you do every day is important. This in turn makes you feel driven to behave in ways that propel you towards your goals.

How Do We Find Purpose?

Finding your purpose doesn’t mean that you have to give up your worldly possessions and become a missionary. Some people feel they’re on-track when rallying people to a cause or rescuing the needy. Others will find their purpose in the act of comforting a sick child, designing a beautiful space, or making a nutritious meal to share. That’s the beauty of purpose: it’s particular to you alone. Purpose is the thing that keeps you up night and the first thing you think of in the morning. Searching for it is actually really simple: Go with your gut!

There’s a great word in the Japanese language – Ikigai – which means having “a reason for being.” You may live to raise your children, build your business, or simply tend your vegetable garden. You might not be so single-minded and instead have a few things that make you tick.  

If you haven’t noticed already, in life you tend to spend time doing things that are necessary, demanding, routine and mundane. But it’s the things that are important to you that will give you purpose. So, rather than asking vague and lofty questions such as – “Why am I here?” or “Where is my place?” in many ways what you’re really asking is, “What can I do with my time that is important to me?” Use your gifts to give yourself a sense of value and to contribute to the common good.

If you’re looking for your own purpose, you might like to take some time out to contemplate this simple question:

“What lights me up and provides a tangible benefit to other people’s lives?

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Shannon Harvey

Shannon Harvey

After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, health journalist Shannon Harvey began investigating the latest scientific evidence linking our mind, body and health. She is the director of the internationally acclaimed feature documentary The Connection: Mind Your Body, and the author of the book The Whole Health Life. Her film, book, blog and podcast can be found at
Shannon Harvey

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