Across western society, the aspirations that get the most air-time are usually focused on becoming rich, famous and beautiful. The pervasiveness of a narrative, has many children growing up wanting to be famous for no particular reason, just to be famous.
Where are the same goals to contribute to society, to love who we are, to support our family and friends and learn and grow as human beings? You can have all the riches in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a happy person.
I can’t over-emphasise the power that purpose has to add meaning to our lives. It gives us the strength and patience to go through the challenges in life.
Let’s start with what is purpose
The Purpose Challenge defines a sense of purpose as “being committed to something that is meaningful to you but also makes a difference to something bigger than yourself. How you want to leave your mark on the world and make it a better place, how you want your life to have mattered”.
So if we work from that definition, how can purpose impact our happiness and wellbeing?
Huge health benefits
There’s not one but many ways in which purpose contributes to good health. A study led by Harvard Medical School studied the risk of death by cardiovascular diseases in people with a sense of purpose and people without one. The study found the risk of death 20% lower in those who claimed to live with a sense of purpose.
Various studies also discovered that people with a purpose tend to take care of themselves more. Patrick L Hill, Grant W Edmonds, and Sarah E Hampson in their research article concluded that “correlational analyses found that participants’ sense of purpose was positively associated with their reports of vigorous and moderate activity, vegetable intake, flossing, and sleep quality. Combined in a multiple-mediator model, bootstrapping analyses suggested that sleep quality and vigorous activity proved significant unique mediators.”
In Japan, having a sense of purpose is referred to as ikigai, which roughly translates into “life worth living”. 11 years ago, lengthy research was conducted involving 40,000 Japanese people, and to discover if they had ikigai in their life. The iconic research was named the Ohsaki Study.
Here are some of the interesting findings of the people who claimed to have ikigai in their lives:
- 50 % had mild or very mild bodily pain
- 81 % had unlimited physical functioning
- 22 % had a very low perceived mental stress
- 69 % had a regular sleep duration of 7-8 hours
Don’t chase happiness, chase purpose instead
We can be allured into thinking that happiness is just the short, fleeting moments of pleasure, which are of course nice to have, but don’t stack up to a strong foundation of meaning in our lives.
Instead, what if we reframed happiness?
Psychologist Russell Grieger defines happiness as, “acting in accordance with your passionate purpose, grounded in rational thought and self-discipline, and guided by personal principles.”
Positive Psychology research, Sonja Lyubomirksky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Thomas Jefferson said happiness is a pursuit, and years later, the researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles confirmed it in their magazine article. They talked about eudaimonia, which comes from having a deep sense of meaning and purpose.
When we have a goal, aspiration or intention in front of us, our life suddenly has clarity. Every decision and every move is a step towards that goal, and every step comes with a rewarding feeling.
Keep in mind that your purpose is bigger than you, and involves others as well. Every step you take towards that goal is making others happy, and that brings a feeling of fulfillment and happiness. I love the meme on the left – in a world full of Kardashians, be a Curie. A Marie Curie, who through her dedication, expertise and knowledge won two Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry.
With a passionate purpose, comes energy and momentum. The best thing is, this energy never wanes or disappears over time.
So how can you find your life’s purpose?
Deep within us, we all have a purpose that can drive us. Sometimes it’s buried deep, other times it’s rising to the surface. Watch out for our upcoming blog series on purpose plus our new online course called the Purpose Masterclass.