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Finding purpose will make you happier and healthier

These tips can help you discover (or rediscover) your passion and apply the benefits across all aspects of your life.

A woman sitting up in bed smiles and stretches as if she’s excited to awaken and take on her day.

(Photo from Getty Images)

Do you wake up in the morning with a sense of your life’s purpose? Do you feel energized and excited to get up and go to work? If not, it may be time to do some soul searching and reach deep into your dreams and values to find out what matters to you. It’s never too late to start searching for your life’s purpose, and evidence shows that living a life of purpose is really good for you, too.

For many of us, the crisis of the pandemic took the focus off pursuing a passion and threw us into survival mode. So many people around the world are languishing. If that is you, it’s OK — you are not alone. Now it’s time to dust off our dreams, recover our passions and pursue real purpose in life again.

Dan Buettner, founder of longevity study organization Blue Zones, says purpose, pleasure and pride are three keys to a long and happy life. Buettner and others studied areas of the world where statistics show that people live longer than average, called “blue zones.” People living in blue zones have about seven extra years of life expectancy. They have something else, too: a cultural sense that each individual has a purpose in life. Some cultures even have a word for “the reason you get up in the morning” — or your life’s purpose.

At The Ohio State University, we recognize 10 interrelated dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, creative, career, environmental, financial and digital. Finding your life’s purpose and pursuing it can have bearing on all of these dimensions and help you set priorities for them.

For example, if you feel that part of your purpose is to be a great parent, you might choose physical activity that you can do with your child; you two might make time to share the outdoors together for environmental wellness; and you might find a creative outlet, such as dance or drawing, that the two of you enjoy together.

Career wellness

Career wellness is especially affected by your life’s purpose. Work that aligns well with your sense of purpose will feel fulfilling and energize you. When your work aligns with your sense of purpose, the rewards are many, including pride in what you do. If you haven’t yet found just the right fit, maybe it’s time to take stock and think about work that might be more in line with your values and passion. It could be time to take a class or gain a certification that will help you move in the direction you want to go. Even if you don’t see a “dream job” in sight, you may be able to shift things slightly, moving from where you are now to be able to do more of what you want to do.

You also can find purpose at work by understanding the connection between the work you do and the larger world you benefit, or by the way your paycheck benefits your family. Try to be the best you can be at whatever work you do, and you will feel pride in yourself and your accomplishments.

Spiritual wellness 

Our purpose, our reason for living on this planet, is at the foundation of our spiritual nature. Questions about what make life worthwhile can help us understand our spiritual values. It’s healthy to stop and ponder these things and then find ways to apply your values to your life.

Physical energy

Actively pursuing your purpose in life can affect your physical well-being, too. Performance coach Jim Loehr, who works with professional athletes, argues that being out of touch with our life’s purpose creates an extraordinary energy drain. People may run in marathons, eat the healthiest foods and be at the top of their game professionally, but these really good things can become an end to themselves when they are disconnected from overall life purpose. Without connection to a life purpose, anything can become meaningless. Loehr writes: “When you find — or, more aptly, choose — your purpose, then you are the agent of your own happiness. You have the opportunity to harvest joy in both the pursuit and the achievement, the journey and the destination.”

Your purpose doesn’t need to be something grand and noble such as ending cancer or becoming an astronaut — you may find deep personal satisfaction in being a good partner, friend and community member.

Finding purpose

If you don’t already have a sense of your purpose, here are some ways to identify what is most important to you:

  • Write in a journal for 15 minutes a day about what matters to you. Who do you like to be with? What makes you laugh? What activities make you feel most alive? When do you feel most important? When do you feel happiest?
  • Consider volunteering. Where do you want to help most?
  • Dream a little: identify some goals, large and small, for your life, both short term (this year) and long term (five or ten years from now).
  • Write a mission statement for yourself, identifying the purpose you feel you are meant to be here for, and put it somewhere you can see it every day. You can change it at any time; purpose can grow and change just like you do.
  • To enhance purpose, increase opportunities to use your strengths to achieve meaningful goals.
  • To enhance pride, look for ways to align your job with your passions. Reflect on your accomplishments — none are too small!
  • Imagine you have been given the power to not fail at anything. What would you do in the next five years? Remember, nothing happens unless it’s first a dream! Write it down and place it where you can see it every day. There is evidence doing so helps dreams come to fruition!
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