Though I’m a certified coach, I nevertheless tire of coaches, influencers and spiritual leaders telling us how to live our lives and presuming to know what’s good for us.
This brings me to the subject of purpose, a topic on which there are a lot of “you shoulds”, which I find debatable.
For a time, my life had no purpose and then I did. I was happy with both. Was one better than the other. Yes, for me, one was.
But, is it for you?
- Can life without purpose be a life well lived?
- What’s purpose anyway?
- Who says we need purpose?
- Is a life without purpose selfish?
- Can’t the pursuit of pleasure be a purpose?
- Here’s what research says about purpose.
- Is life without purpose a life without happiness?
- I found purpose and I’m happier for it.
- 3 steps toward a life of purpose.
Can life without purpose be a life well lived?
When I go for long walks, I listen to a lot of podcasts. At one point, I went through an Oprah binge because her topics often gave me pause.
I listened to a few with Eckhart Tolle. Though I acknowledge the positive impact he’s had on the lives of others, I don’t embrace all his teachings.
I remember one podcast that addressed the topic of purpose. Tolle posited that those who went through life without purpose lived with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction.
I’m not sure.
I think you can lead a perfectly happy life with purpose and a perfectly happy life without one.
It all depends on your values.
I prefer a life with purpose. But that’s me.
As a professional coach, I wake up every day and have the privilege of easing anxiety, grief, insecurities – I help solve problems and I empower people.
This means the world to me. It makes me happy to get up in the morning and, believe me, I’m no morning person!
But I also believe that, depending on your mindset and needs, you can live a perfectly happy life if you live by your values and are true to yourself in your pursuits.
To learn more about identifying your values and living according to them, read
How to be happy in 2,053 words.
What’s purpose anyway?
Generally purpose can be summed up as living your life with a goal that’s greater than you.
It’s about being born with the potential to live, contribute and make a difference in the world in way that has depth and meaning.
Aristotle referred to it as “telos” – which is essentially the ultimate and inherent reason for an object or person’s existence.
It’s a pretty lofty concept. Where it originates, I’m unclear.
Who says we need purpose?
Is the motivation to have purpose an internal drive or external one? Or is it both?
Is it driven by our need for significance and, therefore, ego-based or do we, or some of us, have a motivation that’s entirely altruistic.
Or, is it too a bit of both?
Is the need for purpose vanity on our part?
Are we simply driven by a need to feel significant?
Did society, religion, parents – maybe all three, conspire to give us this sense of obligation to do something with our lives?
And does that “something” have to be more than simply enjoying ourselves?
What about all the influencers and, admittedly, coaches out there urging us to be more than we can be and find our higher purpose? Where’s it all coming from?
Is purpose truly that important? Clearly it is for some, but is it the only way to fulfillment?
Personally, I think you, the individual, can determine whether or not having a purpose will enrich your life.
Is a life without purpose selfish?
I have a friend who’s a very successful hair stylist. He has a lot of money. He’s also married to a successful actor. Together their wealth is in the millions.
Both have a passion for the work they do, but neither have turned their passion into a purpose. Nor do they pursue a purpose outside of their passions.
Essentially, they live in the pursuit of happiness.
They have a beautiful home with expensive furnishings. They wear designer clothing.
When they aren’t working, they travel and do so in style. They go to expensive resorts. They wine and dine in Michelin star restaurants.
Another friend of mine once commented that these two men were hedonists. Her undertone was disdainful.
The two men aren’t overly indulgent, but they do seek pleasure. Is that so wrong?
I wrote an article on values, which I believe to be the foundation for happiness and inner peace. These two men live according to their values.
They value integrity, which they show in their work and in their friendships. They value friendship and would do anything for us.
They also value beauty, which is evident in their clothing, homes and travel destinations.
They’ve been given life, talent, opportunity and wealth, and they enjoy all of it. They’re grateful and never take it for granted. They’re kind people who live morally and wouldn’t hurt a soul.
They donate money to charity, but they have no attachment to any particular charity.
Can’t the pursuit of pleasure be a purpose?
So yes, they pursue pleasure, not purpose. But are they hedonistic or, at the very least, selfish? Perhaps they are self-motivated, but to my mind, there’s nothing negative in the way they’re leading their lives.
Also, maybe seeking pleasure is their purpose. These two men take nothing for granted. They love life and they love experiencing it.
Maybe purpose doesn’t have to be attached to a cause or a contribution?
Purpose can simply mean that you have something to live for.
As an interesting aside, I read some research by YouGov that only 28% of Americans want to achieve great things in life versus those who simply want to be happy.
Here’s what research says about purpose.
I also found an article on NPR about research specific to the topic of purpose. I was surprised to learn that a life without purpose was associated to early death.
According to the research (which was fairly robust given that it studied 7,000 Americans between 51 and 61 years of age), it’s a basic psychological need and one of the biggest motivations we have.
But then I read the definition:
“Purpose can be characterized as a central, self-organizing life aim – a predominant theme of a person’s identity.
Self-organizing in that it provides a framework for systematic behavior patterns in everyday life.
As a life aim, it generates continual goals and targets for efforts to be devoted.
A purpose provides a bedrock foundation that allows a person to be more resilient to obstacles, stress, and strain”
This means that a life aim, like pleasure-seeking for instance, can in fact generate continual goals as it does with my two friends.
Admittedly though, I think I’m stretching it. I don’t truly believe that pleasure-seeking is what’s meant by a life purpose.
Is life without purpose a life without happiness?
When I was little, I used to love playing in nature. I remember spending hours in tall grass, building houses from the blades.
I wasn’t being driven to accomplish a task. I was just being.
When I became an adult, I lost that ability to just sit and be, or perhaps I outgrew it. Instead, I transferred that creativity and expression into my work.
As a copywriter, I spent hours writing ads. I used a lot of storytelling in the radio and TV spots I did, that was the style I thrived at and enjoyed.
When I’d get home at night, I’d go out dancing, yet another form of creativity and expression.
I’d also do up my hair in creative fashions and put on my makeup in the most artistic way. I placed makeup on my face the way an artist places a brush on canvas.
Again, so much creativity and expression both of which came naturally for me.
But was I doing it all for a purpose? No. Did I need purpose? Not then. Was I searching for more? Nope.
Like the two friends I mentioned previously, I was happy and made no apologies for it.
That’s not to say that I didn’t contribute. I always did volunteer work. I did animal therapy. I worked with homeless youth. I started a self-help group for girls with eating disorders.
But I didn’t do it because I felt I had to. Nor was their a larger-than-life drive to contribute and make a difference in the world.
I liked the volunteer work I did and I enjoyed spending time doing it.
In other words, I had no purpose and I felt fine about it.
I had personal struggles, but they had to do with trauma and nothing to do with seeking a reason for living beyond the borders of “being”.
I found purpose and I’m happier for it.
Fast forward to a time when I looked after my ailing and aging mom. I rarely did anything creative because there was little time. When I did have time, I had no motivation.
I hardly painted, which I love to do. I rarely felt like writing. I stopped reading books. I didn’t dance, go to the gym or go out with friends nearly enough.
When I did go out with friends, I’d meet them early so that I’d get home before my mom had to go to bed.
I changed in other areas too. When I’d ride my bike, I took extra precautions so that nothing would happen to me. I stopped jaywalking, which I used to do all the time.
I began being much more careful. After all, I had a life in my hands now.
I was given a trust and a responsibility that I didn’t take lightly. Though I loved my mom beyond words, caregiving could be challenging and suffocating.
It was also the best thing that ever happened to me.
Suddenly I had purpose and it was a privilege. But that’s me and that’s me now. I never felt dissatisfied previously, but I do feel more satisfied since.
When my mom passed away, I began coaching full-time because it ensures that I continue to lead a life with purpose.
Frankly though, I tire of people – coaches, among them – who harangue others on how to “be more than they can be”. I don’t think we owe the world a contribution.
I think we owe gratitude and I think we have to live with integrity and basic morality.
Leading a life with purpose is motivating, energizing and exciting. I do, in fact, recommend it. I just don’t think you’re obligated to have purpose. It’s not the only way to live your life and be happy. I also believe that purpose has a time and place in one’s life.
3 steps toward a life of purpose.
1. Start with your passions
Passion and purpose are often linked. In fact, the two are often used interchangeably in a number of articles.
If you have a passion, it can lead you to purpose. For instance, if you have a passion for creating art, you might find yourself creating art that brings awareness to women’s issues.
If you have a passion for helping people, you might use a talent in finances to teach and mentor new parents with low incomes.
Use gifts and passions to make an impact and you’ll likely find purpose.
Passions don’t have to be limited to your gifts either. A passion for certain causes frequently leads to people finding their purpose in life.
Animal rights, climate change, Indigenous issues – there are countless important causes to get involved in. Find one or more that are close to your heart and you’ll find purpose.
2. Turn pain into purpose
What obstacles did you overcome or are in the process of overcoming? What have you learnt that can help others?
Many people turn their pain into an experience that helps others.
There are self-help groups launched by parents who’ve lost children for parents who’ve lost children.
There are volunteers in rape crisis centers who struggled with overcoming sexual assault.
There are authors who’ve written about depression and suicide because they wanted to turn their experience with it into books that will help others who are struggling.
So look to your pain and ask yourself if any of it motivates you enough to want to help others through it.
3. Find inspiration in others
There are countless people in the word with purpose Oprah, Greta Thunberg, Desmond Tutu – read about their lives. It might give you a clue to how they discovered their life purpose.
There are so many people throughout history to present who can inspire you to find greater meaning in your life if you feel that’s what you’re seeking.
Look to famous people. Look to family and friends. Look to your community.
Sometimes reading or listening to someone who has a passion for their purpose can be so exhilarating that you become motivated yourself.
As a professional coach I love helping people achieve personal and life satisfaction in whatever way works best for them.
I resist being told how we should live and, as such, I resist blanket statements of my own.
My purpose is empowering others and I love it. I’m so very grateful for the journey I went on as a caregiver to my mom because, among the many enriching experiences, I discovered the reward of purpose.
If you’re looking for purpose yourself, I’m happy to help.
But don’t feel obligated to live your life any differently than you’re doing now unless you feel you can be happier and more satisfied.
What I do always suggest, however, is identifying your values and living by them. This article will help you with that:
How to be happy in 2,053 words