Today, we are going deal with perhaps the hardest subject I know of: the purpose of life.
I am no philosophical mastermind, but I am spending a great deal of time thinking about what the purpose of my life should be. I want to make sure that I have a life purpose that enables me to live my life to the fullest – and I want the same for you.
When your life is coming to an end, I want you to be able to say that your life has indeed been a life well-lived. That is why you (and I) need a purpose.
‘The purpose of life’ should not be confused with ‘the meaning of life’. The former I’ll be able to shed some light on, the latter I have no clue about.
I recently did a life bucket list of things I want to do before I die, but completing that list is not my purpose in life. It is merely a measurable life-long ‘to-do’ list of things I want to try.
If you are following this blog, you will know that I am on my way towards financial independence by the age of 33, but that is not my purpose in life either.
What is the purpose of life?
Purpose is often associated with living life to the fullest or living an ‘ideal life’.
In the dictionary, purpose is defined as:
“Why you do something or why something exists“
In general, there’s three overall types of purpose that people use to live life to the fullest:
1. Serving a cause
People who are serving a cause are typically focused on making a difference for other people. The purpose of their life is typically to put something or someone before themselves and devote their lives to that cause.
Examples of people serving a cause are Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela fighting for different causes, but could also be a loving stay-at-home dad.
2. Serving a higher force
People who are serving a higher force are typically spiritual or religious. Many religions have defined the purpose of life and this will most often be the foundation of the follower’s life purpose.
In Christianity, the purpose is to “praise God, worship him, to proclaim his greatness, and to accomplish his will”.
In Buddhism, the purpose of life is to have “freedom from suffering” by not striving for things that do not give lasting happiness.
The purpose of these individuals’ lives is to spread the beliefs and live in accordance with the religion’s beliefs.
Examples are Mahatma Gandhi, a devoted Christian/Muslim/Jew or a priest/imam.
3. Becoming the best
People who are trying to becoming the best within an area (big or small). They are typically trying to disrupt the status quo and pushing the boundaries for what is possible. The purpose of their lives is to define new standards and potentially leave the world a better place than they found it.
Examples are Elon Musk, Christiano Ronaldo or a loving and caring partner.
There’s none of these overall types of life purposes that are better than others and each of these can lead to equally good lives. Furthermore, your life purpose might span all three of types of purposes (or even a fourth type).
Your specific life purpose will not necessarily be any of those overall types of purpose, but they might contain elements of them. Some people even find their life purpose by diving into quite alternative or spiritual beliefs. I haven’t experimented with it myself, but you might try alternative ways to finding your strengths and life purpose.
The purpose of my life
I have been able to boil the purpose of my own life down to a single overall sentence:
I want to spend all of my time with people I love, doing things that really matter
This is also why I am pursuing financial independence and early retirement. This gives me the freedom to choose how I want to spend my time.
I guess that spans the two types of life purposes: “serving a cause” and “becoming the best”.
Your life purpose might be much more specific and involve a lot of other aspects of life – there’s no right way of having a life purpose.
If you do not have a life purpose yet, I’ll show you how to get one in a second.
The most common topics used when defining your life purpose and living life to the fullest are typically:
Why do you need a purpose in your life?
I can’t answer that for sure, but I know why I and some other people need a purpose in life.
Having a purpose in your life enables you to live life to the fullest.
There’s generally four reasons why you might need a purpose in your life:
- Meaning: Having a purpose gives meaning to your life. Often people who feel their life is meaningful are happier and feel greater satisfaction with their lives.
- Foundation: Having a purpose gives you a foundation from which you can live your life. If you have a foundation you will have a clear basis of intrinsic beliefs for making choices and evaluating tradeoffs.
- Direction: Having a purpose gives you a sense of direction. You will know where you are headed when times get tough and you will be better able to cope with failure and struggles in life.
- Focus: Having a purpose gives you a greater focus in life and makes your life much more simple. You will become better at prioritizing the right things and saying no to the wrong things.
Now that we have covered what a purpose is and why you need it, it is time for you to find your own life purpose – if you haven’t found your purpose yet!
How you find your life purpose
To identify your own life purpose, I suggest that you go through these three exercises. Of course, it might take more than three exercises, but it will be a start.
Take your time to do them properly (I suggest minimum 15-60 minutes per exercise):
Exercise 1: Your funeral
Try to imagine yourself on your dying day. You are lying in your bed knowing that your time has come.
How do you want to remember your life? What are the things that will make you smile and make you realize that your life has indeed been a life well-lived?
The things you note down could be things that shape your life purpose.
Exercise 2: Your last day
This exercise is similar to the previous. For some reason, it is often when life comes to an end that we see things clearly.
Try to imagine that you were told that you only had one day left to live. If you only had 24 hours more on planet Earth. What would you do?
Again, the things you note down could be things that shape your life purpose.
Exercise 3: Life purpose statement
Finally, after completing the two previous exercises, you are ready to formulate your life purpose statement.
Your life purpose statement is dynamic, which means that it will most likely change during your life – it should never be static, although it should not necessarily change either.
To formulate your life purpose, try to take a blank piece of paper and make four headlines:
- What I believe in: What are your core beliefs about life on Earth and your own life (e.g. I believe that my life has no higher meaning and that I have to find meaning myself)?
- Principles to live by: What are core principles that you want to live by (e.g. I want to always put my family first and treat others with respect)?
- Your life purpose statement: Considering everything you have written down in the three exercises, how could you summarize your life’s purpose?
- Impact on your current life: What will you change in your current life to live according to your new life purpose statement?
Don’t worry! You might not identify your perfect life purpose in the first go. It will take some iterations that might take days, months or even years.
I hope these exercises were helpful in getting started with identifying your own life purpose.
Your turn: Do you have a life purpose? How did you find out what it was? Is it even necessary to have one?