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Ok, I want to get straight to the point here – do you think some life purposes are better than others? It’s a topic you want to get right, but how much time do we invest in it to consider? Instead we head straight into our careers and lives without understanding if it’s important.
Emily Esfahani, author of The Power of Meaning: The True Route to Happiness, highlighted in her book:
“In the late sixties, the top priority of college freshmen was ‘developing a meaningful life philosophy.” Nearly all of them – 86% – said this was an ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ life goal. By the 2000s, their top priority became ‘being very well off financially’ while just 40% said meaning was their chief goal.”
No wonder there often comes a time when you wonder what the point of life is and perhaps go in search of something meaningful to you.
In his book, Noble Purpose – The Joy of Living a Meaningful Life, William Damon, people fall into one of the four categories.
1. The Disengaged (and non-purposeful)
People in this category show no engagement to others. They have no interests and activities that involves anything other than themselves.
2. The Dreamers
The dreamers are pro at dreaming. They have ideas and notions about themselves but these dreams never see the light of day. The dreamers never do anything to enact their ideas, not in the present and not in the future.
3. The Dabblers
The dabblers dabble in everything, but temporarily. Their resume consists of several pages in which they seem to have experimented with everything under the sun. And yet, nothing lasts because they lack the commitment, the driving force that will make them stick.
4. The Purposeful
These people have become aware of something that truly matters to them, they have discovered the reason behind their passion, and they have committed to stay with this thing for a long time. All their actions are towards that one thing that now matters to them and will continue to matter to them.
Damon’s research of 1,200 12 – 26 year olds found that only 20% of people fell into the category of purposeful. He found that the majority of people fell into the dreamer (25%) or dabbler (30%) category which have the most potential to find their purpose.
What’s the true meaning of purpose?
A life purpose is a central motivating aim in our lives. The thing that means the most to us, the very thing that makes us get out of bed every morning.
A purpose can help guide your decisions, give you a sense of direction, removes the feeling of confusion and being lost. It influences our behaviour, and most importantly it creates meaning.
The purpose is also different for every single person. One person’s life purpose could be their vocation and to achieve certain goals within that vocation. For another person, it could be providing a good life for their family. Since purpose is quite personal, it cannot be compared to another person’s purpose.
In that regard, one’s purpose is never better than the others.
However, when you compare your own goals and aims in life and how you are drawn to it, then indeed some purposes are better than others.
What purposes to focus on
So just to re-iterate, we are not comparing your purpose with others. All of our lives are different, our stories are different and that is why our purposes are different too. We are comparing the purposes you can focus on in your life.
- A prosocial purpose is better than a non-prosocial purpose
Research describes prosocial behavior as an “action primarily intended to benefit others”.
So, respectfully, let’s forget about you for a moment! Sometimes our ego can catch us thinking out when our purpose becomes all about us!
A better purpose would be something that involves helping, donating, sharing, creating, and volunteering for others.
- A purpose with vertical coherence is better than the purpose lacking it
In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt discusses the concept of vertical coherence.
According to the research, Haidt drew the conclusion that all the emotionally happy and healthy people have short-term goals that align neatly with their long-term goals–hence the vertical coherence.
So having our purpose align with our daily or even yearly goals is important. Our short term goals may give us clues as to a more overarching purpose in our life.
Are your goals in alignment?
- A purpose that comes from intrinsic motivation is better than an extrinsic one
A purpose based on what others think, the craving for fame, for beauty and fortune is not as helpful as the purpose that is drawn from intrinsic motivation. Your intrinsic motivation comes from connecting with others, giving back and learning and developing yourself as a person.
This is associated with eudaimonia, a Greek concept that refers to the right actions that result in the well-being and happiness of an individual.
When your purpose is based on morals, ethics, goodness, and kindness as opposed to conforming to extrinsic factors then you can truly achieve eudaimonia.
- A purpose based on calling is better than a purpose based on career
Now don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of people get a lot of meaning from their work and career. It’s sometimes good to question – why is that? For example, some people get a lot of external validation from their work – money, status or money – which drives them to focus on their careers.
My question for you is does this lifestyle allow you to exercise and take care of you physically, mentally and emotionally? Does it give you time with your loved ones, your partner and children? Does it allow you to give back to your community? What happens when you retire and your children have grown old? Will you look back and be proud of the life you’ve led?
I want you to push yourself to think bigger than just your career and focus on your calling.
Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale School of Management describes a person with a calling as someone who works not for financial gain or career advancement but instead for the fulfilment that doing the work brings and its usefulness to society.
Not all purposes are created equal
Taking the time to consider your purpose and the motivations behind it can have such a positive effect on your life and wellbeing. In a world that is often feeding you down a pathway of fame, fortune and beauty, it’s important to consciously choose the life you want to live. If you need guidance you’re more than welcome to check out my new Purpose Masterclass.