- Purpose is generally thought of as the most important thing(s) for an individual to guide their behaviors and attain their goals.
- Individuals who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life tend to have better mental health and overall well-being.
- Purpose anxiety relates to the anxiety and negative feelings such as stress, worry, and frustration when seeking a sense of life fulfillment.
- Purpose comes from a sense of self-knowledge and must be created, not found, meaning that you may need to put in some work to "find" it.
What is your purpose or your meaning in life?
A sense of purpose is generally thought of as the most important thing for an individual to guide their behaviors, make decisions and attain their goals. For some, it is raising a family, commitment to their community, their passions, and for others, it may be their careers. Purpose can be as simple as bringing happiness to someone you love or taking care of your child. A fundamental misconception about purpose is that purpose is not fixed. It is not uncommon for individuals to change their sense of purpose, especially after a significant life event such as a death in the family, grown children leaving home, retirement, or entering or leaving a meaningful relationship. Regardless of what brings you meaning and purpose, it is essential to have a sense of purpose.
The positive mental health benefits of purpose
Research shows that individuals who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life tend to have better mental health, overall well-being, and cognitive functioning compared to those who lack a sense of purpose. Individuals with a sense of life purpose are less likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. Several studies also show that individuals with a strong sense of purpose tend to engage in healthier behaviors and lifestyle choices such as practicing regular physical exercise and participating in preventative health services. A study in 2013 found that individuals with a strong sense of purpose in life were better at stress management and had better sleep than individuals without a strong sense of purpose.
Having a positive and meaningful aspect in life may improve brain function, including overall cognition and memory. Additionally, individuals with purpose tend to have lower instances of depression. However, just because it is healthy to have a sense of purpose or meaning does not mean that a sense of purpose is easy to find.
Purpose anxiety is a relatively new term that relates to the anxiety and negative feelings such as stress, worry, and frustration that arise when seeking a sense of life fulfillment. This type of anxiety often occurs during times of significant transitions, when people start to look for their purpose in life or find a new purpose to correlate with a new chapter in their life, or times when people are actively trying to fulfill their sense of purpose.
Signs of purpose anxiety include the following:
- Constantly switching jobs hoping that one will be more fulfilling than the next.
- Constantly comparing yourself to others.
- Recognizing your failures instead of your accomplishments
- Jumping from one relationship to another, hoping you find "the one."
How to create a sense of purpose
Creating a sense of purpose means that you seek meaning greater than yourself. Approximately 25% of American adults say they have a clear sense of purpose about what makes their lives meaningful, while 40% either claim neutrality on the subject or say they don't have a sense of purpose.
Purpose comes from a sense of self-knowledge and must be created, not found, meaning that you may need to put in some work to create your purpose. Creating your sense of purpose may take time and require a lot of tough questions and deep conversations. You may even consider talking to a life coach or therapist. Below are a few key points when searching for your sense of purpose:
- Donate your time, money, or talent
- Explore different interests to find out what you love to do
- Reflect on what type of injustices bother you the most
- Meet new people
- Ask for feedback from others
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Ask yourself the "why's": "why do you live where you live"?, "why do you do what you do"?, "why are you happy in certain moments"?, "Why are you bothered by certain things"? "why do you buy the things you buy"?
Schaefer SM, Morozink Boylan J, van Reekum CM, et al. Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli. PLoS One. 2013;8(11):e80329. Published 2013 Nov 13.