The Circle of Fulfillment - Purpose

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Purpose is your reason for doing things. Like "values" and "meaning," purpose helps guide your life decisions, influences behavior, and shapes your goals.

Your purpose,

  • May be your contribution to your work, or your responsibilities to your family and friends or community. Or you may find your purpose through your spiritual beliefs.
  • Will likely evolve as you go through life.
  • Is applying your talents and abilities toward becoming someone you respect. And, ideally, in time, you will want to contribute to those outside yourself. For example, using your gifts and talents to add beauty to the world, helping your friends, or bringing more joy into the lives of those around you. Part of your plan to contribute to those outside of you should include focusing on your own self-improvement. For example, it is perfectly reasonable to think, "To help others in the way I would like, I must first earn my college degree."

It is extremely worthwhile for you to establish your purpose in life if for no other reason than for your health. For the little time it takes to think it through, the benefits are enormous. In one study, UCLA researchers, in collaboration with University of North Carolina scientists, have found that happiness derived from an outward-facing purpose in life has a healthier genetic effect than happiness derived from pleasure-seeking. Their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revolved around two forms of a feeling of well-being: eudaimonic, which comes from having a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life and doing good for others, and hedonic, which grows out of self-gratification and pleasure-seeking. The UCLA researchers found that individuals with a strong sense of hedonic well-being showed high inflammatory gene expression and low expression of antiviral and antibody genes—meaning that their reaction to adversity would be similar to that of people under stress and anxiety. In stark contrast, individuals with a strong level of eudaimonic well-being had the exact opposite traits.

In another study, researchers found the health benefits of having a strong life purpose appeared to be more important for decreasing the risk of death than drinking, smoking, or exercising regularly. This study and many others are referenced at the bottom of this page.

Knowing your purpose can be very valuable. Every day, your purpose can draw you forward. It can help you make decisions. You just ask yourself, "Does this align with my purpose?"

Finding Your Purpose In Life

Ask yourself,

  • What am I good at?
  • What do I love to do?
  • What can I be paid for?
  • What does the world need? (Who can I help? How can I help?)

Download this Ikigai Worksheet. Then enter your answers to these questions to find your Ikigai. Would you say your Ikigai matches your purpose in life?

Watch the video below to learn more about purpose.

Purpose Quotes

"Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." Viktor Frankl

"What are you doing with what you have been given? That to me is the primary question about life. That to me is what being purpose-driven is all about." Rick Warren

"The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." Ralph Waldo Emerson

What Emerson doesn’t say is usefulness, honor, and compassion lead to fulfillment, and a fulfilled life is the basis for a happy life.

A Life of Purpose - Ted Talk by Rick Warren

"I think that comes down to this issue of meaning, of significance, of purpose. I think that it comes down to this issue of, 'Why am I here?' 'What am I here for?' 'Where am I going?' These are not religious issues. They're human issues."

Purpose Studies

Having a purpose in life has been shown to have numerous health benefits. A 2017 study, published in The Journal of Sleep Science Practice (Turner, A.D., Smith, C.E. & Ong, J.C.) 2017, suggests that having a purpose in life has an enduring effect on the quality of sleep, resulting in fewer sleep disturbances and an improvement in overall quality.

Another study published in the JAMA Network (Alimujiang, A., et al.) 2019 showed that, compared to people with a strong life purpose, those without were more than twice as likely to die within the 5-year duration of the study. This association between a low level of purpose and increased risk of death was true across groups, regardless of socioeconomic class, gender, race or education level. The researchers also found the association to be so powerful that it surpassed drinking, smoking and regular exercise in its ability to lower risk of death.

Previous works have shown that purpose in life is independently linked to numerous positive health outcomes and healthy behaviors, as well as longevity (Kim et al. 2013; Boyle et al. 2009; Boyle et al. 2010a; Boyle et al. 2010b; Boyle et al. 2012; Krause 2009; Roepke et al. 2014). For example, having higher levels of purpose in life has been associated with a reduced risk of stroke (Kim et al. 2013 ), Alzheimer’s disease (Boyle et al. 2010a; Boyle et al. 2012), disability (Boyle et al. 2010b), and all-cause mortality (Boyle et al.2009; Krause 2009). Purpose in life, though trait-like, is dynamic and research suggests change in this construct is induced by psychological and social influences.

The authors go on to note that purpose is not just a trait that some have and some do not; it can be cultivated:

It has been suggested via clinical intervention that purpose in life is a construct that can be consciously cultivated and enhanced (Ryff 2014; Burrow and Hill 2011).