The simple way to find purpose

Life can feel monotonous at times. Like we are going through the motions and just kind of drifting aimlessly. “Another day another dollar” as the saying goes or, “Oh you know, same ol’” is what we often say when asked how life is going for us.

We can feel a little blasé about life and disconnected within ourselves. We chase the things that we think will make us feel more excited about life — the house, car, higher-paying salary and so on. Yet as research has shown, we often return to the same level of happiness we were before obtaining such things.

What we may be missing is a sense of purpose.

Purpose is essentially, a reason for being. Okinawans call it ikigai, and Nicoyans call it plan de vida. It’s a reason to get up in the morning. To actually want to get up and start the day. Many of us are forced to get up, but how many of us feel excited about facing the day?

No matter what path we walk in life or what age we are, purpose is important for our happiness and wellbeing. It can help us feel fulfilled, and contributes to a meaningful life.

Various studies throughout time show that purpose helps our health and wellbeing.

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between a sense of purpose in life with physical and mental health and overall quality of life. It followed nearly 7000 participants over the age of 50. The study’s results indicated that a stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality.

Purpose is something that I’ve questioned in my own life.

I’ve felt disconnected at various times throughout my life and it’s not a nice feeling. You feel stuck and like life is kind of drifting away from you. It’s as though you aren’t offering any value or making a difference to the world around you.

And that I think, is the essential element of feeling a sense of purpose — helpfulness.

We feel happy when we feel as though what we do makes a difference to someone, or the world in some way. It doesn’t need to be astronomical. But that sense that what we do helps another is the magic element of a life well-lived. It’s what gives us that sense of purpose.

I think the reason many of us lack this sense of purpose is in part due to life being online. Much of our work and our interactions with others involve sitting behind a screen. It’s impersonal. We don’t see the warm smile on the other side that says “thank you.” That face-to-face connection and warmth are really important for our wellbeing.

Perhaps in part, it’s why centenarians live for so long, and seem to have a zest for life. Life wasn’t online in their time. They had to see each other face-to-face. They knocked on each other’s doors to say “hello” or “thank you.” They picked up a telephone to check to see how the other was doing.

They connected and they helped one another.

This helping one another is something we all need to keep in mind, especially as technology advances. We all need to check in with ourselves and ask: how am I helping another?” If an answer doesn’t come easily, then perhaps it’s time to look closely at your life and make a few changes.

Purpose in your work-life

If you feel disconnected at work, rather than change career or jobs completely, it can help to look at it from another angle.

Ask yourself — is the work that I do helping someone better their life in some way, or keeping people safe? Is it educating others or helping them improve their situation so they feel secure and stable?

If you struggle to see that your work helps others, then maybe speak with your manager so that you can move into a path that helps you feel like you are more actively engaging with and helping others.

If still, you struggle to see how your work is or can help others, then perhaps it is time for a change. When we think of who it is that we might like to help, then that can give us clarity and direction.

Purpose in your personal life

If you feel disconnected in your personal life, can you think of ways that help you connect more with your friends and family?

Is there something you can do to help your child or your partner thrive? Are there rituals you can create as a family to strengthen the bond between one another? Is there a friend that might need a hand through a difficult time? Or those less fortunate who could benefit from your care?

It can be challenging when we lose a loved one. This is especially relevant to those in the later years. When you spend much of your life with someone, and then they are suddenly taken away from you, it can be devastating. Life all of a sudden can feel empty and lonely. And any sense of purpose you once had with caring for the other disappears.

It takes time. But that sense of purpose can be established again.

I’m currently experiencing this with my 89-year old grandfather. His only love passed away this year. He cared for her for a long time. And then she left this world and he struggled to see a path forward. He lost a sense of purpose.

I notice him come alive when he feels he is helping me. When he hands over vegetables grown with his own hands he lights up. When he shares stories about his life and details about his past and family he appears relaxed. Letting him know that I enjoy learning from him seems to help him.

Finding purpose is often overcomplicated.

I know, because I complicate it myself.

We can spend countless hours doing exercises to try to find clarity. We can spend many dollars seeking the advice of coaches and psychologists to try to find the answers. But if we step back, take a breath and just simply ask ourselves — who are we helping? It all becomes clear. We can feel happy and a sense of purpose when we help others.

Originally posted on



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