What is 'Finding Purpose' All About?
The purpose of life is not to be happy at all. It is to be useful, to be honourable. It is to be compassionate. It is to matter, to have it make some difference that you lived – Leo Rosten
By Emma Jaynes
The notion of having a purpose in life has become common parlance in a variety of contexts in the C21st.
I think I first became conscious of it whilst attending certain types of wellbeing groups and networking events.
For many, there seems to be the notion that we have a ‘one true purpose’ that we must constantly seek out and which, upon finding, we will finally be whole and complete.
The main problem with this particular concept of purpose is that it is highly likely that we will never find ‘the one’, in the same way that many fail to find the idealised ‘one’ in a relationship. As with the relationship context, it raises a number of poignant questions right away.
How will you know your one true purpose when you find it? What does it look like? How is it meant to feel? What does it even mean?
In my personal experience, particularly that of the peers I have worked with, this notion of looking for the one purpose, causes a number of challenges.
Firstly, we can spend a lifetime seeking it and never finding it (and many do). This leads to the sense that what we are doing right now is not ‘the purpose’, thus, causing feelings of dissatisfaction with life, as well as inadequacy that we haven’t found our purpose and therefore must have failed at life. In fact, some falter at the starting point, stuck at ‘I haven’t a clue what my purpose is so I will never be happy’
Secondly, there is the sense that a ‘purpose in life’ must be something huge, lifechanging, transformational, and ‘important’. But what is important? Important to whom? Where is the benchmark for importance?
This is superficial important that risks becoming grandiose, often meaning that we miss the fundamental purpose of day to day living which is already right before our eyes.
Thirdly, all of this distracts from actually ‘doing’ anything useful at all. It becomes a procrastination tool that acts. In some cases, as self-sabotage, and in others, from taking responsibility for anything at all, and this is why I love the quote, above, from Leo Rosten (an American humourist, scriptwriter, storywriter, journalist, and Yiddish lexicographer, according to Wikipedia 😉).
It seems to be another common notion, in the West at least, that our ultimate goal in life must be happiness. I don’t mean to be a party pooper but, aside from the fact that happiness is a fleeting, rare, and volatile emotion and one that we can never realistically expect to feel the whole time, this goal is totally the wrong way around. I will come back to this point.
In ALF, we use the DENT model, which is a psychological approach and theory created by myself and Keith Abrahams in Positive Ways. One of the underlying principles of DENT is that, to be healthy and successful, individuals need to be purposeful. In fact, we have also derived the Purposeful health model from this assumption.
So, what does DENT make of purpose?
Well, in a similar vein to Rosten, it is more about the fundamental things in life. It is about being able to wake up each morning and strive to be your best self, to be useful, to look out for others, to be honest and trustworthy. It is about having pride in whatever you are doing in your life, right now. It is about taking responsibility for yourself, your life, your health and those around you who depend on you. Can you imagine anything more purposeful and important than being a good parent, partner, friend, spouse, or member of your community?
For me, it is also about knowing what I stand for, living up to that, and calling out challenges to it, to the best of my ability, even if it is difficult to do so. For me also, making a difference is important – I don’t have to make a difference to the whole world, I can do it in my little corner of the work, whether that is with my family, my friends, my community, my colleagues, or in my work.
At a very basic level, being purposeful is also about simply having something to do. As well as halting the habit of navel gazing, worrying about and feeling sorry for ourselves and our problems, it also gives us something to occupy our time constructively and something to aim for that leads to a sense of achievement.
We call this ‘Purposeful Occupation’ and it can come in the form of voluntary work, employment, study, self-employment, or following a passion or hobby, for example.
Research shows us that humans are goal orientated creatures. We literally cannot survive without a goal of some kind. People who are purposeful are healthier and happier, which brings me back to my earlier point. Contentment is a more accessible and realistic emotion than happiness and, whilst we might have episodes of happiness or joy, contentment is more consistent and leads to a calmer, more productive and overall fulfilling life.
Purpose is linked to motivation. When we spend each day being purposeful in some way, we feel a sense of achievement. This stimulates the reward circuits in the brain, which is pleasurable. We then want to replicate this feeling over and over. Thus, we set more goals to stretch ourselves, which motivates us to strive for that next hit of dopamine (the feel good chemical) which we get whenever we achieve something, and so the cycle continues and we find ourselves living a life on (and of) purpose. We feel contented, and able to meet our other essential needs, whilst supporting others around us to meet theirs and thus, we build healthy and sustainable communities.
* Free Programme - Self-Leadership: Building Resilience & Finding Purpose in Uncertain Times
We are currently running our Level 3 Accredited Programme – Self-Leadership: Building Resilience and Finding Purpose in Uncertain times.
This is fully funded for those who live in Bedfordshire & Luton, and are currently out of work.
The course aims to support individuals to get back into ‘purposeful occupation’ in the forms of setting up your own business, gaining employment, or following a course of study/ training.
If you think you might be eligible for this programme, or would like more information, please visit the Self Leadership page here, where you will find a registration form: Level 3 in Self-Leadership: Building Resilience and Finding Purpose in Uncertain Times – Adept Living Foundation CIC – ALF CIC or contact us at : firstname.lastname@example.org
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If you are outside Bedfordshire, contact us for information about subsidised programmes.
We look forward to hearing from you! 🙂