Having a direction and an overarching meaning in life helps you live longer, helps buffer against setbacks, and is linked with well-being.
In theory this is great, but in reality most people aren’t born knowing what they want to do with their lives. A recent article by author Mark Manson highlights the problem:
Chances are you have no clue what you want to do. It’s a struggle almost every adult goes through. “What do I want to do with my life?” “What am I passionate about?” “What do I not suck at?”
Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our cosmic mission to find it.
Manson recommends re-framing the question and thinking about purpose in a more manageable way:
So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
He put together a series of questions to help you figure out for yourself what matters most to you and how to add more meaning to your life:
Fulfillment involves effort, trial-and-error, failure and learning.
Remember the joy of doing things for the fun of it? No rewards, no impressing anyone, just for yourself.
When are you are so immersed in an activity that time passes without you realising? Psychologist call this flow.
You may not end world hunger, but you can make a difference. Instead of focusing too much on finding yourself, lose yourself in something larger.
How do you really want to spend your time? What do you want your legacy to be?
Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself, and bigger than those around you. And to find them you must get off your couch and act, and take the time to think beyond yourself, to think greater than yourself, and paradoxically, to imagine a world without yourself.
Purpose is not something we are born with. It’s cultivated.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson