Creating a sense of purpose

‘What is your purpose?’ can be quite an intimidating question but one, that at some point, is a useful one to answer.

The word purpose is almost regal, conjuring images of selfless quests and profound revelations, and maybe better suited to religious books or grand histories than everyday life. However, for each of us, a sense of purpose is not essential if we are to maximise our potential.

The biologist Richard Dawkins suggests that from a purely biological point of view it could be suggested that our fundamental purpose is to reproduce; human beings and animals have an innate desire to ensure the continuation of their gene pool. This approach, however, seems at odds with our experience of life itself. Science and systematised biology, which in one way unites human beings under a single heading, fails to adequately account for the unique and fluid variations that can provide diversity in multiple guises. The values and intentions we each hold are our own and it is out of these, that a sense of purpose may grow.

Why do we need purpose? Is there not something liberating about living each moment as it comes? Despite this, ‘a sense of purpose’ is a phrase that is ever-present in the vocabulary of self-help and personal fulfilment. It is a phrase that seems to be directly linked with success and, perhaps more importantly, when it is thought to be absent ‘a sense of purpose’ is something desperately sought after. Why?

A study published in the Journal of Health and Psychology found a direct correlation between those individuals who had a clear sense of purpose and those who gave positive reports of their activity levels, eating habits, productivity and sleep. Managers who operate with a clear sense of purpose usually see far better results both financially and in terms of staff retention and happiness. A clear sense of purpose cultivates an efficient, positive and ultimately successful environment. What’s not to like?

If a clear objective promotes better and more focussed work, perhaps a sense of purpose can add value in our personal lives too. Beyond Blue, an organisation which specialises in helping people to achieve their best possible mental health, has noted that a healthy sense of purpose helps to put unexpected or extreme events “in perspective, and refocus on the things that are meaningful to you”. At this time especially, where so much seems out of our control, having the ability to refocus on those things which matter to you would appear hugely important. The purpose itself, which Beyond Blue are quick to make clear, does not have to be a ground-breaking or innately powerful one, but it does need to be something in which you as an individual are invested.

Unfortunately, there is no set answer to what a sense of purpose actually looks like but by identifying what is truly important to you and the things which you are happy to strive towards, you are making a good start. That said, simply establishing this purpose does not enable you to achieve it. It is just the headline. Only through small, consistent, everyday behaviours that are aligned to the goal will it be cultivated and achieved.

Even Dawkins admits that “some aspect of life must be for living”!