The Greater Good Magazine has a good article on finding your purpose by Jill Suttie, outlining 7 activities you can engage in that have been shown to assist people in jump-starting the process of working out how to give their lives meaning.
- Identify the things you care about
- Reflect on what matters most
- Recognise your strengths and talents
- Try volunteering
- Imagine your best possible self
- Cultivate positive emotions like gratitude and awe
- Look to the people you admire
To me there are two simple but powerful aspects to finding purpose in life.
First, is that purpose helps you articulate goals, and goals are helpful in focusing your attention and efforts. Purpose is like a magnifying glass, bringing something important into focus.
I think my purpose in life is to learn, talk and teach about wellbeing and productivity to assist others. Knowing that helps me set more specific goals: create wellbeing programs, write a blog, teach, make videos etc. It also helps me filter out activities that might be interesting, but aren’t consistent with my purpose. And given there are way more things to do in life than one could possibly fit in a lifetime, being able to filter out some of those activities is very useful.
Second, is that purpose in life helps you, to a certain extent, transcend some of the frustrations and annoyances of everyday life. One of the things that we might do with students who are falling behind on their studies is to talk about why they decided to study in the first place. It is important to be reminded of this, especially when one is disgruntled or unmotivated in the present moment. There are days I really don’t want to write, but knowing that it is important that I do, gives me a little kick in those moments.
As far as the article goes, something which I would add to it would be that meaning and purpose can shift over the lifetime. There was a point in my life where music (playing and listening) was the driving force in my life. I suspect I even thought I would be a rock star – haha!
That purpose then shifted to a building a career and then to leaving some kind of useful teaching legacy.
Being aware that purpose and meaning can shift is important in learning when to let go of something that might have once been a driving force in your life, but is no longer the case. The possibility that the driving force in your life now as a student might change when you leave uni is OK. It isn’t a sign that the original purpose was flawed or that your new purpose lacks credibility. What is important is that at any given point in time, you can articulate what it is you are working towards, what is important to you and what you think will give your life meaning.
If you don’t feel you can do that, the linked article might be just right for you.