4 Tools to Help You Uncover Your Purpose

Kate is 32 years old: a highly successful entrepreneur who runs several businesses, drives a convertible and lives alone in a penthouse apartment. She is a self-made overachiever: highly motivated and highly intelligent. The world is her oyster – or so one would think.

Kate decided to see a psychotherapist when it became apparent that there was something missing from her life. Society tells us that we will be happy if we just work hard enough. But Kate has worked incredibly hard, achieving levels of success that most of us can only dream about. Despite this, she feels empty and unfulfilled. Why does she feel this way and what can she do about it?  

What Is ‘My Purpose’ Anyway?

Kate is grappling with same existential question that so many of us have considered: What is my purpose in life? What gives me a sense of meaning and significance? What makes life worth living? What gives me a good enough reason to get out of bed each morning? And no – “coffee” is not an appropriate answer to these questions.

These questions all refer to the matter of life’s purpose – an idea which has been discussed and debated for centuries, since the time of Aristotle. More recently, researchers in the field of Positive Psychology have started to explore this topic. So, do we know what the purpose of life is? Of course not. Have we even agreed on how to define this concept? Not really. What we know for sure, however, is that having a sense of purpose is incredibly important for one’s mental and even physical wellbeing.

Why Is Purpose Important?

Research has shown that people with a purpose are more likely to be happy and psychologically resilient. They are also likely to have lower levels of stress hormones and even reduced cholesterol counts! One study from Canada’s Carleton University has shown that people with a sense of purpose tend to live longer lives. The researchers followed 6000 participants and found that those who had initially reported having a sense of direction in life were more likely to be alive 14 years later! So, what are some practical tools that you can you use to invite a sense of purpose into your life?

Tool 1: Therapy

Wait: psychotherapy is only for people who suffer from mental illness, right? Wrong. Therapy – especially psychodynamic or “depth” therapy – is used by many as a tool for personal growth and development. If you’re looking to uncover your purpose in life, therapy is a good place to start. Why?

Therapy helps us to learn more about ourselves. In psychodynamic therapy, the focus is on our relationship patterns and how these get played out unconsciously throughout our lives. In this way psychotherapy can give you a deeper understanding of what makes you tick. If you’re preoccupied about a lack of meaning in life, therapy may provide the space which you need to explore questions about your place in the world.

One form of psychotherapy is specifically designed to help people find a sense of meaning in life. This is known as Logotherapy – “logos” being the Greek word for ‘meaning’.  Logotherapy was invented by the famous Viktor Frankl – a survivor of the Nazi war camps. He observed that people with a sense of purpose were better equipped to survive torture and get out alive. Following his harrowing experiences, Frankl famously said: Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.’ Logotherapy, therefore, is one avenue through which you can explore and identify your life’s ‘why’.

Tool 2: Meditation

For many of us, feelings of purposelessness are linked to the fact that we’re running on autopilot and feeling like we’re too not really living our lives. For example, does it ever feel like you’re so busy doing things that you’re unable to stop and appreciate the positive aspects of yourself and the world around you? In such cases, you mind find that your “inner voice” is being stifled, making it harder to connect with your true dreams and desires.

Meditation means momentarily stopping all this frantic multitasking in order to reconnect with your moment-to-moment experience. For some, simply being able to stop and smell the roses provides a sense of meaning and joy in and of itself. For others, meditation provides the opportunity to re-evaluate one’s life decisions and take steps toward building a more fulfilling future.

Tool 3: Dream Journaling

Freud famously spoke of dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”. The unconscious refers to the part of our minds that we’re not aware of. Our dreams give us hints about those deep and intimate aspects of our true selves.

Try to get into the habit of writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up – you’ll find that the details fade quickly once you’re awake. Dream journaling gives you a chance to start recognizing themes and patterns that are of significance to your unconscious mind. If you can make your deepest dreams and desires more conscious, this may help you develop a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Tool 4: Follow Your Passion

This one may seem obvious, but if you’re having trouble finding your purpose, try to follow your passion first. What in life makes you feel most excited and enlivened? For some people dancing or playing music gives them this feeling; for others this sensation comes from surfing an ocean wave or doing volunteer work. Whatever you’re passionate about – pursue that activity. You might find that following your passion in this way provides you with a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Bottom Line: Purpose is a Process

Psychologists have been studying the concept of purpose for many years. It’s clear that ‘purpose’ means different things to different people and that there is not set formula for discovering one’s purpose in life. Remember, though, that uncovering your purpose is about engaging in an ongoing process – not simply achieving a goal! In other words, maybe our true purpose is not to reach a place of complete fulfilment, but to be continually searching for a greater sense of meaning. The four tools that we have discussed here today are likely to help you start that journey.   

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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