5 Ways to Cultivate Your Purpose & Build Meaning into Your Everyday Life

Ever think about your purpose? Wonder how it helps your life? Why it matters? Builds energy? Helps you be more healthy? Having a life purpose can lower stress, enhance well-being, and increase cognition1,2. Lately, we have been hearing a lot about purpose in the psychology world. It has become a buzz word because it is so important to living our best lives.

Person reading compass in mountains

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Find Your Purpose

It is time to get serious about your purpose. Purpose is about finding something that matters to you and brings something good to the world2. A wise soul visiting my office told me finding purpose means:

“having some connection to hope and future impact. It’s about feelings of ability to make things happen. A sense of connection ‘a gift to somebody’. A need to socialize the experience and a recognition that the gift is in its authenticity and sincerity”. 

As you consider your purpose consider your contribution in relation to how committed you are to making things happen. Without a personal commitment to make something happen purpose is just a dream. The reason we want it to be personal is because when it has a personal underpinning, it becomes about making meaning for your life. Meaning is important to our psychological health. I can have a thing to do – stick the widget in the box – however if I find no personal connection to why it is important to get the widget in the box, it won’t have purpose for me, it’s just another task on my to do list. As you work, find the personal meaning in the tasks that need to be done. Then make sure they understand how this task relates to the larger whole. 

Having Purpose Helps Your Physical Health

A study done noting the relationship between a sense of purpose and declines in physical health found that older adults who had a sense of purpose had less physical decline in grip strength and walking speed2 . These are important because as we age our slower pace is linked to more disability and less quality of life. 

Fogel & Canahil found purpose helped us recover from stress1. Stress is something we all need a little of, however if we have too much for too long our physical system becomes inflamed. Inflammation wreaks havoc on our structures. It causes joint pain, brain fog, digestive issues, heart issues, and more. In their study, having life purpose was linked to a faster recovery from a stressful situation test. 

As we move through life, having purpose in our lives appears to help us handle the costs of too much stress. It was also noted in the studies above that those who had purpose reported more engagement in taking care of themselves and using proactive strategies like staying on top of routine health care needs2

Greater Than Me

Another component of purpose is the way purpose connects to something bigger than ourselves. If my goal doesn’t bring connection to others and offer a positive “gift” then I have just accomplished a goal. Purpose is like my goal on steroids. 

That’s why we see so many fundraisers to run a 5k for a cause. I could go out and run 3.2 miles any day. I could do it just because it makes me happy, gets me on the trail, out of bed, off the couch. However, most of us don’t, unless it’s helping another. Then we are all about 5am headlamp runs. When you consider how you are creating a sense of purpose for yourself, find the way the task or goal becomes service to something larger than you. 

Socialize It

If we want to inspire others to build and follow their own purpose we need to consider how we engage with others. Do we provide opportunities for those around us to hone their sense of belonging to our cause or project. Transformational leadership posits that we influence those we lead, and that this style of leadership enhances wellbeing in those who follow us4. Leadership doesn’t have to be a formal title, it can be found in our everyday living when we decide to engage with those around us. We have an opportunity to help others capture the benefits of purpose and drive more engagement in our communities.

Well-being definitions are broad and incorporate various aspects of physical and psychological health. They include a lot more than just the absence of disease. Transformational leadership is about influencing, inspiring, intellectually challenging, and honoring each person’s individuality with appreciation for what they bring to the team4 . Do you bring these items to those working with you? Live with? Hang out with?

Reflect on Your Strengths and Values

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To help you create a sense of purpose, consider where you have been. Remember, part of purpose is looking toward creating something positive in the future, having a common goal, that helps others or contributes something good to the whole. This means we have to know where we’ve been. There is an element of reflection that is needed when we consider creating purpose rather than just a task list. We want to assess what we are good at, what we’ve been able to do before, and then link our values and hopes into the project that creates a new future. 

5 Exercises to Help You Build Your Purpose and Cultivate Meaning

There are a few things to consider when working to develop a consistent focus building purpose into our lives.  Here’s a few fun ways to do this:

  1. Evaluate your values. There are many options for values inventories online. Here’s a good one to use. 
  1. Consider your future self. Visualize your future self and imagine sitting down to have a conversation with them. Ask them about what is important, what they were excited to have accomplished, and what they hope for. Let the future you impart wisdom to the today’s version. Listen and then set some goals to accomplish those aspirational aspects of yourself. 
  1. Learn emotional regulation skills. This is so important. It’s a skill we all recognize should be taught in kindergarten, however many of us only got the cliff notes. Cultivating emotional regulation and the ability to shift your focus from what isn’t working to what is working is an advanced skill and takes practice. You must hone your ability to recognize, label, and accurately act on your emotions as they present themselves. Emotions are just a part of your built in intelligence system, however most of us are limited in our ability to recognize and label. This impacts our ability to accurately act. As a result, shifting perception – which is an action – is limited to our narrow version of what is happening in our view of the moment. 
  1. Practice visualization and what is known as the miracle question or magic wand in Solution Focused therapies. This exercise asks you to visualize and report in detail your perfect day/situation/outcome/etc. In this exercise we get very specific about what you see, think, feel, and how you act. Step by step we walk through your prefect scenario and focus on what you want. A big piece of this exercise is how you feel. Do not skip over cultivating how you will feel during each step of the day. 
  1. Be of service. Get outside yourself and your goals. When you can figure out how you can contribute you’ll have a better sense of what the world needs and how you fit into the solution for problems. This allows you to hone your own skill set and offer all that you have already learned for the benefit of someone else. Here you get to recognize your strengths and review how you learned them. You can review your life to this point and assess where you went right, wrong, and what you learned. 

Consider the above and practice these exercises. They’ll give you a gold mine of options for find your next purpose. 

References 

1 – Fogelman, N., & Turhan, C. (2015). ‘Purpose in life’ as a psychosocial resource in healthy aging: An examination of cortisol baseline levels and response to the Trier Social Stress Test. Nature Partner Journals, Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, 1, 15006, doi:10.1038/npjamd.2015.6

2 – Kim, E. S., Karachi, I, Chen, Y., Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). Association between purpose in life and objective measures of physical function in older adults. JAMA Psychiatry, 74(10)l 1039-1045, doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2145: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2145, PMCID: PMC5710461,PMID: 28813554

3- Greater Good Magazine. Science based insights for a meaningful life. definition of purpose: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/purpose/definition#what-is-purpose

4 – Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Pscyhology, 12(3), 193-203, DOI: 10.1037/1076-8998.12.3.193