Having a purpose in life is an important factor for happiness. Without it, you’ll live your life less focused and restless. Furthermore, you’ll often feel stressed because you won’t feel aligned with the things you do.
But why is it so important to have a purpose in life? The importance of having a purpose in life has been proven by numerous studies. They all show that people with a clear sense of purpose are more likely to grow old in a healthy way. Additionally, people with a clear purpose in life find it easier to be inspired by the things they do. This article will cover the most important details of these studies in addition to examples of how you can find your own purpose in life.
The benefits of having a purpose in life
You probably agree that it is important to have a purpose in life if you want to be happy. But does science agree here? Here are some interesting results that will show you just how important it is to have a purpose in life.
The most prominent and well-referenced study that I stumbled upon is very interesting. This study was conducted by Randy Cohen, Chirag Bavishi, and Alan Rozanski and was published at the end of 2015. As part of the study, over 136,000 people were evaluated and followed for about 7 years. The average age at the start of the study was 67 years old, and as the people in this subject passed away or faced health issues, the researchers found out an interesting piece of data.
The analysis showed a lower risk of death for participants with a high sense of purpose in life. After adjusting for other factors, mortality was about one-fifth lower for participants reporting a strong sense of purpose.
How did the researchers decide which person lived with purpose and which person didn’t? This is covered in more detail in the fully published report. This is where it gets a little technical, so I’ll just copy and paste the methodology here:
Purpose in life was assessed in 2006 using the 7-item Purpose in Life subscale of the Ryff Psychological Well-being Scales, previously validated in a nationally representative sample of adults. On a 6-point Likert scale, respondents rated the degree to which they agreed with each item. The mean of all items was taken to create a scale. Scores ranged from 1 to 6, where higher scores reflected higher purpose.
The participants were asked to rate their own sense of purpose on a scale from 1 to 6. This study clearly shows that you are more likely to grow old (healthily) when you live a purposeful life.
An example of how a purpose in life can make your life happier
In my article about different examples of life purposes, I’ve asked people the following question: What is your purpose in life? Out of the responses that I got, I want to highlight one that I think provides some anecdotal proof:
I got cancer at age 30 and am currently grappling with this question. My focus has completely shifted and I feel like my the whole point of life now is just 2 simple things:
- Making positive connections with others and enjoying those around you. It is a lot easier to sit on the couch and watch a feel-good show then it is to go have dinner with your in-laws when you are tired – but what is the point in sitting there watching TV? We all waste way too much time doing crap like that. Better to build meaningful connections while you can. There are millions of super isolated people in the world as well who would kill to have someone to have dinner with.
- Squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of life. I need to walk home – I can either take the subway for 5 minutes underground or I can walk 30 minutes through a park and tree-lined streets and truly enjoy it.. maybe get an ice cream on the way. I’d pick the fast way every time before, now I’m constantly looking for the most enjoyable route instead.
This shows to me that having a purpose can enable you to:
- Live a life that aligns with your values.
- Be more motivated, disciplined, and efficient in being the best version of yourself.
- Find long-term happiness in the things that you do (no matter what they are).
Does this explanation of a sense of purpose surprise you?
If I’m honest, I have to say that this explanation surprised me at first. This answer says that her purpose in life is pretty much to be as happy as possible while enjoying as much time with close connections as possible.
This is far different from some of the big purposes that people are well-known for. Take Elon Musk, for example, whose purpose in life is to accelerate space exploration.
But don’t be fooled! A purpose in life doesn’t necessarily have to be unique or jaw-dropping. It’s not a game of showboating. You have to find your own purpose in life, that’s what matters most. Don’t let your purpose be influenced by someone else’s.
Don’t feel intimidated by someone else’s purposeful life
So Elon Musk has a unique purpose in life, don’t you think? A lot of people admire him for that, and that’s great. But don’t be intimidated by his purpose, and definitely don’t feel like your own purpose has to somehow match this high standard.
Elon Musk said it himself: “The idea of lying on a beach as my main thing just sounds like the worst. It sounds horrible to me. I would go bonkers. I would have to be on serious drugs. I’d be super-duper bored. I like high intensity.”
I’m going to assume here that you are not like Elon and you don’t like high intensity as much as he does. Therefore, why do you think your purpose has to be similar to his?
It’s important that you find your own purpose in life instead of simply copying someone else’s. Just as much as your definition of happiness is unique, so is your purpose in life.
3 ways to find your purpose in life
People generally don’t wake up one day and have a “eureka” moment and suddenly know what their purpose in life is. No, we usually have to discover our purpose by trial and error.
So how do you discover your purpose? Here are 3 ways to find your purpose in life more quickly.
1. Actively try new things
You definitely won’t find your purpose in life by simply waiting for it to fall on your lap. You find it by actively trying new things and taking action.
If you haven’t yet discovered your purpose in life, then you will not find it by trying the same things repeatedly. It helps to always keep an open mind here. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s an article with some inspiring new things to try.
2. Know that your job is not necessarily your purpose
It’s important to know that your purpose in life and your job are not the same things. Too many people look for a job that pays the bills and that simultaneously makes their lives have a purpose.
A very small percentage of people find actual purpose in the work they do. In fact, according to a 2013 study by Gallup, only 30% of all American employees feel engaged at work. The takeaway here is that your career doesn’t necessarily have to be your purpose in life.
3. Develop a growth mindset
When we stop growing, we plateau. And we all know a plateau is a meh place to be. Fireworks and magic don’t happen on a plateau. The thing is, many people don’t realize they have the internal power to expand their knowledge, develop their emotional intelligence, and become better versions of themselves.
That’s why you need to develop a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
This helps you realize that who you are now isn’t who you have to be for the rest of your life. So if you find yourself lacking a sense of purpose, then a growth mindset will help you to develop yourself until you find one. If you’re looking for ways to develop your growth mindset, here’s our article on the topic! It is no coincidence that the mastery of entrepreneurship begins with development of an entrepreneurial mindset. This article is offered because purpose and entrepreneurship are so closely connected.