From Issue: 981 [Read full issue]
For decades, psychologists have studied how long-term, meaningful goals develop over the span of our lives. The goals that foster a sense of purpose are ones that can potentially change the lives of other people, like launching an organization, researching disease, or teaching kids to read.
Indeed, a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together—which may be why it's linked to better physical and mental health.
Many seem to believe that purpose arises from your special gifts and sets you apart from other people—but that's only part of the truth. It also grows from our connection to others, which is why a crisis of purpose is often a symptom of isolation. Once you find your path, you'll almost certainly find others traveling along with you, hoping to reach the same destination—a community.
Here are six ways to overcome isolation and discover your purpose in life.
Reading connects us to people we'll never know, across time and space—an experience that research says is linked to a sense of meaning and purpose. If you're feeling a crisis of purpose in your life, go to the bookstore or library or university. Find books that matter to you—and they might help you to see what matters in your own life.
2. Turn hurts into healing for others
Of course, finding purpose is not just an intellectual pursuit; it's something we need to feel. That's why it can grow out of suffering, both our own and others'.
3. Cultivate awe, gratitude, and altruism
Certain emotions and behaviors that promote health and well-being can also foster a sense of purpose—specifically, awe, gratitude, and altruism.
4. Listen to what other people appreciate about you
Giving thanks can help you find your purpose. But you can also find purpose in what people thank you for.
5. Find and build community
If you're having trouble remembering your purpose, take a look at the people around you. What do you have in common with them? What are they trying to be? What impact do you see them having on the world? Is that impact a positive one? Can you join with them in making that impact? What do they need? Can you give it them? If the answers to those questions don't inspire you, then you might need to find a new community—and with that, a new purpose may come.
6. Tell your story
Reading can help you find your purpose—but so can writing, Purpose often arises from curiosity about your own life. What obstacles have you encountered? What strengths helped you to overcome them? How did other people help you? How did your strengths help make life better for others?
"How to Find Your Purpose in Life" - Jeremy Adam Smith