Why is it Important to Have a Purpose in Life?

Have you ever wondered what you’re meant to do with your life? Throughout people’s lives, from childhood to early adulthood, most people follow a certain path. Go to primary school until high school, then to college, and after graduating from university, find a job and do well there. 

While a few people deviated from this path and found what they wanted early on, most people started questioning their life’s purpose during early adulthood. This phase can be an exciting time in people’s lives because they get to explore different options and make choices that will shape their future. 

With so many educational and social responsibilities, people have to rely more on themselves and their own resources without following a routine or receiving much support from school and family. While this process can be anxiety-inducing, achieving one’s life purpose gives people a meaningful life. 

So, what exactly is it like to have a purpose in life? Is it the same thing as having a meaningful life? Often, purpose and meaning are used interchangeably. To understand the benefits of purpose in life, it is important to understand how purpose and meaning are connected. This article will help you do this.

Purpose vs meaning

Purpose in life refers to having a sense of direction or a reason for living. It is about having a goal or a mission that guides your actions and gives your life a sense of significance. According to the APA dictionary, purpose in life is “the mental sense of a goal or aim in the process of living or in existence itself.” 

One’s purpose in life may involve pursuing a particular career, helping others, or making a difference in the world. Having a clear sense of purpose can give people a sense of direction and motivation, leading them to feel fulfilled and satisfied.

On the other hand, meaning in life refers to the subjective experience of feeling that one’s life has value, significance, or importance. It may involve finding joy and fulfillment in relationships, hobbies, spirituality, or personal growth. Research in 2015 showed that meaning in life consists of three dimensions: 

  • Coherence: the feeling that life makes sense;
  • Purpose: having direction and aims in life; and
  • Significance: the worthwhileness of one’s life.

How they are connected

McKnight and Kashdan (2009)’s definition of purpose in life explains the relationship between purpose and meaning: “Purpose is a central, self-organizing life aim that organizes and stimulates goals, manages behaviors, and provides a sense of meaning.” Based on these definitions, purpose in life is one of the key components of meaning in life. Having a purpose in life can lead people to a meaningful life. 

Purpose guides and motivates people to achieve certain goals. It can influence your daily behavior, thoughts, and feelings. 

Meaning, on the other hand, is subjective and unique to everyone. It is a sense of importance that you put into your life; it gives you a feeling that your life makes sense and goes beyond just counting the seconds, days, and years. To do this, you must first understand the direction of your life and have a clear sense of purpose.

Benefits of having a sense of purpose 

Numerous studies have proved the importance of having a purpose in life. People with a clear sense of purpose are more likely to grow old and healthy Moreover, having a sense of purpose has numerous benefits that can positively impact different areas of life, such as: 

Less stress and anxiety

Some of the research explains that purpose in life is like a compass. It is a driving force that offers people a sense of direction. People with a purpose in their lives tend to experience less stress and anxiety because they can manage their emotions better and find multiple ways to overcome the obstacles they might face.

A study in 2018 found that people with a higher sense of purpose in life were reported to experience more positive emotions, fewer negative emotions, and physical symptoms daily. 

People with a purpose in life understand that they are likely to face challenges when working towards their goals and objectives in life. When facing daily stressors, they can cope better and avoid overreacting to challenges.

Better physical and mental health

People with a purpose in life are more likely to engage in healthy behavior, increasing their physical health. This is because having a life purpose makes people more likely to value their health and want to increase their vitality to reach their desired goals.

When people have a purpose, they will feel that their lives are meaningful and their goals are worthwhile. This gives people a reason to choose and maintain healthy habits by getting more involved in physical activities. Not only an increase in physical health but having a purpose in life also leads to better behavioral and psychosocial health.

Research suggests that having a sense of direction and goals in life can lead to better physical health and lower risks of cardiovascular disease or cognitive decline. A study in 2022 led by a researcher from Boston University found that having a higher sense of purpose could even lower your risk of death from any cause. 

This applies to people of all genders and races/ethnicities. The study analyzed data from over 13,000 US adults aged 50 and older and found that those with the highest sense of purpose had the lowest risk of death (15.2% mortality risk) compared to those with the lowest sense of purpose (36.5% mortality risk).

The research found that when people feel like their lives have meaning, they tend to be more satisfied. Hence, when people feel their lives have a purpose and are valuable, they’re more likely to feel happy and fulfilled.

Having a more optimistic outlook 

People with a sense of purpose are more likely to focus on the positive aspects of their lives rather than dwell on the negative, which helps people maintain a more optimistic attitude. 

Based on a study in 2009 found that having a purpose in life can increase a person’s life satisfaction during adolescence and early adulthood. Moreover, being hopeful plays a role in mediating the relationship between purpose and life satisfaction. 

Thus, having a sense of purpose would give people hope for the future, and that hope would contribute to greater life satisfaction.

How to find your purpose

Finding your purpose in life might seem daunting and confusing at times. However, you need to remember that it is a subjective experience, and your experience might not necessarily be the same as everyone else. 

Everyone’s life circumstances and personal experiences can affect their purpose. The phase of your life and what you’re going through can also change your direction. So, you might have different purposes in life when you are in your early 20s and your 40s.

When you feel like you don’t know or are unsure about your life purpose, you can start by reflecting on yourself and your values. Do you have any interest or passion that aligns with your values? Reflect on your past experiences and consider when you think you lived your best life and felt life worth living. 

What are the issues or causes you care about the most? This question can give you clues to what you find valuable and important in life. You can also start by considering the impact you want in the world.

There are no set rules or steps that people should follow to find their purpose in life. It is a process of self-discovery and learning more about yourself. Some ways to learn more about yourself include reading, exploring new interests, or getting involved in new activities or communities. 

Defining your purpose can give you clarity on what’s important. When your purpose guides your choices and decisions, it can give you a deep sense of fulfillment and greater meaning in life. 

In conclusion

The journey to finding purpose in life might feel different for each person with different timeframes and circumstances. What matters is how your life’s purpose drives you to live it and enables you to enjoy a more fulfilling life. Activities that provide purpose may be caused by an overall perspective of what is valuable.

So, how does having a purpose in life lead to higher life satisfaction? Well, it gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. But on a deeper level, having a purpose can give you a sense of fulfillment and meaning, leading to greater overall life satisfaction.

If you would like to see more resources on the meaning of life, check out the Happiness Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other resources. Visit the Happiness Science Labs today.

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