Wellness — April 18, 2019 at 4:12 pm

The Journey for a Purposeful Life

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In the book Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is so obsessed with catching the infamous whale that he loses sight of what’s important and sails off to a catastrophic end. This story rings true for the of people seeking a purposeful life, where the struggle to find meaning produces an assortment of negative emotions and health ramifications under the blanket term “purpose anxiety.” The irony is that having purpose is associated with higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction, while also reducing risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events.

For all its worth, purpose can seem vague and if you don’t know exactly what you’re searching for, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. So let’s start by demystifying “purpose” by defining it as a framework giving meaning to your life that’s interrelated with your goals and identity. With that definition, we can dive into these two major contributors so you can side-step purpose anxiety and more easily find what you’re searching for.

The power of goal setting

Purpose is not a summit you can reach, it’s a continual target that can be made actionable through goal setting. Putting in effort and progressing towards your goals creates a significant and perpetual source of purpose in life. You can take this effect one step further by merging your goals and core values to create what we’ll refer to hereafter as “life goals.” For example, putting money into savings every month is a practical base for a goal, but to what end does it serve; will this ambition rev your engine each morning? If it’s to buy expensive things, think again—materialism likely won’t produce substantial happiness or meaning. You need to connect your goal to something you’re passionate about, such as what Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet have done by their Giving Pledge to donate their wealth to philanthropy.

There’s no shortcut here—finding what you’re passionate about is deeply personal. However, you can help narrow it down using these popular categories: your family, community, dreams, beliefs, religion/spirituality, field of study, or any cause or organization that’s important to you, to which you can continually contribute. Keep the idea of life goals in the back of your mind and in the meantime work towards any goal that helps you grow as an individual. Doing so reinforces purpose in your brain and may, with time, create clarity towards the bigger picture.

The influence of social connectivity

We’re hardwired to be social and a significant part of our identity is formed through relationships with others. Having supportive interpersonal relationships creates a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life, yet 46% of Americans reported feeling sometimes or always lonely. The reason why so many people feel purposeless could be related to a loss of connectivity and social identity.

Take a moment to evaluate the intimate relationships in your life. These are people with whom you have mutually strong emotional bonds, such as romantic partners, family members, close-knit friends, and mentors. Don’t focus on the quantity of relationships, focus on the quality as that’s a stronger indicator of healthy social connectivity. After doing this, ask yourself whether you’re satisfied with your social life. If not, your quest for purpose may be rooted in the social space. You can improve your social connectivity by putting time and energy into enriching your relationships. Getting involved in your community or with volunteer and social support services can also produce similar positive effects related to both purpose and social connectivity.

The reality is that finding purpose in life is difficult, full stop. Hopefully that sentiment lifts some weight off your shoulders, and you find comfort knowing that most people are similarly struggling. While defining your goals and building your relationships are practical ways to create a sense of purpose, the answer to, “What’s our purpose on Earth?” is something people spend a lifetime trying to answer. For now, the best you can do is learn from Captain Ahab’s tragic obsession and work towards bettering yourself and the people around you—and that’s a pretty noble purpose.

The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None of the information presented is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

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