The cynical answer is – there is no point.
Arguably this is true – we’re born, spend a variable amount of time living and then we die. The world keeps revolving. As far as we know, no one has yet managed to manipulate these incontrovertible laws.
So. We’re here and we’re going to die at some point – we might as well enjoy our lives and be happy. All to often we don’t and we aren’t. Even achieving the prerequisites of a western lifestyle such as money, a home, car, entertainment and holidays often isn’t enough to get us clapping along with Pharrell Williams every day…*
How To Be Happy
Yet we all know people who appear happy and contented, even during difficult moments. The common thread I’ve observed amongst these people seems to be that they are wholeheartedly engaged in a mission of some sort. Something which is never finished. An ongoing life’s purpose. More often than not, this purpose involves serving others in some way.
The Happy Baker
It sounds grand. A purpose. But a meaningful purpose doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. The people I’m thinking about are like the baker I once knew who ‘served’ his community by baking wonderful bread every day and absolutely loved it – always had a smile and carried on working late into his eighties until he couldn’t stand any more, literally.
A Purpose To Life
It makes sense to me. If these happy people have figured out their calling, it gives them reason to get up every day. Not just meaning either. They can evaluate choices to see if they are consistent with their purpose, thereby aligning their lives with what they know to be important to them. For example:
- Is my lifestyle helping me to live my purpose?
- Does my job allow me to practice my purpose?
- Is what I’m doing right now helping me live my purpose?
Without a purpose, I’ve realised that it’s impossible to assess any choice without reverting to a self centred and reactionary approach.
Finding Your Purpose
Having convinced myself of the necessity of a good life purpose, here’s some steps I took to figure out what it is. This may or may not work for you, but I hope it at least provides some inspiration.
- Do some deep thinking. Tune into your true self and identify what makes you, you. What are your unique talents – the characteristics and abilities that only you have. What do you love. What motivates you. What makes you laugh and cry. What do other people say you are good at. What do other’s compliment you for. What makes you feel really good on a deep, emotional level. Write everything down. You may also find that single words come to mind which resonate with you and bring up some emotion – jot them down also.
- Now think about how you’d like people to remember you when you are gone. Imagine you are on your death bed looking back at your life – how would you like to have lived it? Really get in touch with your emotions and feel it deeply. Again, write it down.
- Now bring all of this together to define your purpose. Write it out and keep refining it over and over until you can put it into words which are deeply meaningful to you. No kidding yourself or writing things that you think will show you in a good light – this has to be your absolute truth. Keep going until the words you have written make you want to cry – actual crying is fine too. It will mean that you’ve found your true purpose. Steve Pavlina documents this process in detail – he says it takes 20 minutes, but it took me much longer and 8 pages of A4 before I got really honest with myself and arrived at my true purpose. NB – The form your final, written purpose takes is up to you – you might end up with a sentence, a bullet list or a paragraph- just be sure that it’s deeply meaningful to you.
- Write out your purpose somewhere where you can easily read it every day. Read it every day. Think about it deeply. Refer to it before you make any decisions.
One Caveat – Be of Service
Personally, I think your purpose can’t be just about you. I think it should involve helping others in some way.
Once we commit to helping others, we shift the focus outside of ourselves, we get out of our own bubble. We open up and start to experience joy, love and meaning.
I’m not suggesting living in service means you have to give everything up to work in an aid camp or build a school. It could mean that. Equally, it could mean committing to smile at everyone you meet, every day. Imagine the happiness and connections you would create by doing that.
Lets go back to my baker friend. Imagine he sat down early in his life and wrote out his life’s purpose as: “My life’s purpose is to bake amazing bread”. He’d have no doubt experienced a lot of joy and satisfaction making bread.
What’s wrong with this example? There’s not a lot in it for anyone else. It would have been a personal hobby for the baker and perhaps his family would have got to enjoy lovely bread.
In reality, he reframed his purpose to: “My life’s purpose is to bake amazing bread for my community”.
Only three extra words, but a much expanded mission. He moved it out of his own bubble and created the possibility to serve others. Not only did he still get all of the personal benefits of baking the bread, but he also positively impacted a whole community. His bakery was the heart of the community during the day. A place where people came from far and wide to buy their bread, stop for a sandwich and a cup of tea or grab a tasty iced bun, all with plenty of banter at the same time. I know people who walked from across the village every day just to go to his shop – they got exercise and got to enjoy contact with others. Families took joy in eating his warm bread in the mornings. In short, the baker’s expanded mission touched a huge number of lives. In return, he received great joy, satisfaction and contentment – much more than he ever could have got from baking bread at home.
By moving the focus externally, we open up a whole world of possibilities and open our hearts to rich and meaningful connections.