Having a meaningful, long-term goal is good for your well-being. Here’s how to find your way for a purposeful life.
Many of the people I know seem to have a deep sense of purpose. Whether they work for racial justice, teach children to read, create inspiring art, or collect donations of masks and face shields for hospitals during the pandemic, they have found ways to mix their passion, talents, and care for the world in a way that gives meaning to their lives.
Luckily for them, having a purpose in life is associated with all kinds of benefits. Research suggests that having a purpose is linked to having better health, longevity and even economic success. It feels good to have a purpose, knowing that you are using your skills to help others in a way that is important to you.
But how do you proceed in finding your goal if it is not clear to you? Is it something you develop naturally in the course of your life? Or are there steps you can take to stimulate more purpose in your life?
Probably both, says Kendall Bronk, a researcher in charge of the Adolescent Moral Development Lab at Claremont Graduate University. People can find purpose in an organic way – or through conscious exercise and self-reflection. Sometimes the fact that someone is talking to you about what is important to you makes you more conscious about your life and your purpose, says Bronk.
In her work with adolescents, she has discovered that some teenagers find a purpose after experiencing hardship. Perhaps a child who has experienced racism decides to become a defender of civil rights. Or someone who has become seriously ill chooses to study medicine. Experiences such as poverty and illness are, of course, challenging to overcome without help from others. But Bronk’s research suggests that having a supportive social network – caring for family members, like-minded friends or mentors – for example, helps young people reconsider hardship as a challenge they can change for the better. This may also be true for adults.
While hardship can lead to a goal, most people are likely to find a purpose in a more meandering way, says Bronk- through a combination of education, experience and self-reflection, often helped by encouragement from others. But finding your goal can also be a jump-start if you have the right tools. She and her colleagues have discovered that exercises aimed at exposing your values, interests and skills, as well as practising positive emotions such as gratitude, can help you reach your goal in life.
Please download our free E-book 8 Hacks to living a purposeful life for more information.