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The power of purpose

The power of purpose

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The need for purpose is one the defining characteristics of human beings. Human beings crave purpose, and suffer serious psychological difficulties when we don’t have it. Purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life.

Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning. Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some people, purpose is connected to vocation—meaningful, satisfying work. For others, their purpose lies in their responsibilities to their family or friends. Others seek meaning through spirituality or religious beliefs. Some people may find their purpose clearly expressed in all these aspects of life.

Purpose will be unique for everyone; what you identify as your path may be different from others. What’s more, your purpose can actually shift and change throughout life in response to the evolving priorities and fluctuations of your own experiences.

Questions that may come up when you reflect upon your life purpose are:

Who am I? Where do I belong? When do I feel fulfilled?

Why does Purpose have such a positive effect?

I would suggest a number of different reasons why purpose is good for our psychological health. Firstly, it makes us less vulnerable to what I call ‘psychological discord’. This is the fundamental sense of unease we often experience whenever our attention isn’t occupied by external things, and which can manifest itself in boredom, anxiety and depression. By focusing our attention externally, and giving us a constant source of activity to channel our mental energies into, purpose means that we spend less immersed in the associational chatter of our minds – the chatter which often triggers negative thoughts and feelings. Another important factor here is that aligning ourselves to a purpose often makes us less self-centered. We feel a part of something bigger, something outside ourselves, and this makes us less focused on our own worries and anxieties. Our own problems seem less significant, and we spend less time thinking about them, and so our sense of well-being increases. 

Purpose can also enhance our self-esteem. So long as we feel that we are successfully dealing with challenges and moving closer to our goal, our self-confidence increases. We feel a sense of competence and achievement, an enhanced ability to deal with difficulties and challenges.

Finally, purpose is closely related to hope. Working towards a goal implies that we feel that the goal is attainable, and that our lives will change for the better once we have reached it. It implies hope – depending on our type of purpose, hope for a better life for us, a fairer and more just society, liberation from suffering and oppression for others, a healthier world, and so forth. And as with purpose itself, a great deal of research has shown the positive effect of hope on well-being. The effect is especially evident with patients suffering from serious long term illness. For them, a high level of hope brings both an increased ability to cope, and a greater chance of recovery.

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