In certain periods of our lives, we often feel like we don’t have any purpose. It’s normal to feel that way, especially after experiencing a traumatic life event like divorce or death in the family, or being stuck in the same condition for a while, such as working on the same job for years.
When you feel like you have no purpose, you’re actually comparing your current condition with what you expect to be or have. But you couldn’t see that “something” that makes waking up in the morning worthwhile.
Perhaps you had a purpose to be happily married, but then you were divorced. So you felt like you’ve lost that purpose. Perhaps you had a purpose to be the best in the workplace, but apparently you weren’t chosen for the promotion. So you felt like you’ve lost that purpose.
You didn’t realize that those (being happily married and getting a job promotion) aren’t life purposes, as your existence isn’t defined by them. They, undoubtedly, are parts of your existence that contribute to valuable learning lessons in life. You grow as a person when experiencing the happier and the darker sides of life, which is something to be grateful for.
The thing with discovering your purpose is that it’s not as simple as reading a book and finishing it. It’s not even as straightforward as going to school and obtaining a degree in psychology, humanities, business, engineering, medicine, or math.
It’s not that simple and that straightforward because discovering your purpose isn’t a linear effort.
Why Discovering Your Purpose Is Not Easy
Discovering your purpose is an on-going process and it depends solely on yourself. You’ll go through good and bad periods when looking for it. Some days, you’d feel good that your life is purposeful; but on other days, you’d feel that you’re lost.
Acknowledge both with an “observing mind“. Either way, it’s just what you feel. Your existence doesn’t depend on whether you feel that you have or have no purpose. In Zen Buddhism, there are two types of minds: the thinking mind and the observing mind.
When you’re thinking about anything, you’re using the “thinking mind.” However, when you’re observing how you think, you’re using the “observing mind.”
For instance, when you think about how your dog was hit by your neighbor’s car, you’d feel hurt and upset: you’re using the thinking mind. When you reflect and notice that you are using thinking mind and say to yourself, “I was feeling hurt when I thought about Bruno,” you’re using the observing mind.
At the Beginning of Your Journey Your Purpose Doesn’t Appear Big
If you were to reach into the past and sit down with Gandhi,Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., or individuals who led us technologicaladvances in the 21st century and ask them how they knew what theirpurpose was, they would tell you that they didn’t know it. They simply did whatfelt right to them, one step-at-a-time and that their purpose gained clarity asthey took those steps.
We have a tendency to think that our purpose should look andfeel as big as the accomplishments of great men and women who have achievedtheir purpose. Our purpose only appears big when we have not yet become theperson we have to be in order to achieve it. As we grow, it just feels like thenext logical step.
Let me reiterate: How you feel doesn’t define who you are. Even when you feel your life is purposeless, it’s actually only a feeling. You might still be on track, without you noticing it. Oftentimes, whenever we’re using the thinking mind, our observing mind turns off.
Since there is NO training to discovering your purpose, you’d need to experiment with questions. Questions make you think with the so-called “thinking mind” that will eventually turn on the “observing mind.”
Ask yourself what you truly want in life and how to get there. Honestly answer those questions wholeheartedly. Remove your doubts for a moment, because no one is judging and telling you what you can or can’t do. You’re just asking yourself – no more and no less.
These five questions should guide you in self-discovery.
1.) What do you love the most in life?
It can be a thing, an activity, or a state of mind. Dig deeper on why you love those things. How does it make you feel? Elated? Calm? Peaceful? Euphoric?
2.) Why do you think that you love it (that thing you love the most)?
Give reasons on why you love it other than it makes you feel good. Does it thrust you forward to be a better person? Does it allow you to learn new things and be more accomplished? Write it down and let your fingers type things down freely. Free writing is both therapeutic and reveals one’s inner thoughts.
3.) How can you make it worthwhile for more people?
That thing you love could be useful for more people. Think about the various ways to disseminate what you love. Make it an important part in your life, so you become its advocate of some sort.
4.) Who do you admire the most in life?
Do you admire Noble Peace Prize winners? Do you admire celebrities? Who are they? Write down their names and their positive qualities. Imagine your life in their shoes. What would you do if you own their qualities?
5.) How can you be someone like him or her with what you have at hand?
Perhaps you’re a talented singer, web designer, writer, accountant, or a block chain developer. What can you contribute to the world with those skills? For instance, if you admire Nelson Mandela for his humanitarian and human rights works, but you’re a web designer, you can create a website dedicated to those issues.
Are We Guided Toward Our Purpose?
The texts of at least six religions suggest that humans haveguidance. Now, in an important scientific paperpublished in 2007 that re-defined the purpose of emotions, theresearchers concluded that “A person could certainly do far worse, and arguablynot much better, than to go through life making all decisions so asto maximize positive emotions (especially in a long-term perspective) andminimize negative ones.”
The researchers found that behavior pursues emotion. Inother words, we naturally tend to make decisions based on whether we believethey will help us avoid pain (such as guilt or actual physical pain) ormaximize pleasure (such as bringing us joy or love).
If we look at positive emotions as signals or guidance thatwe are moving in the direction of our purpose and negative emotions asindicators that we have strayed from our path, it fits perfectly with both thereligious and scientific viewpoints. In order to accept this view, we have to acceptthat humans naturally want good things for others. The old paradigm that we arebad doesn’t fit with current scientific evidence. Maximizing happiness does notinvolve stomping all over other people. That type of behavior is associatedwith fear.
On the other hand, the researchers found “a fair amount ofevidence that anticipated emotion does lead to adaptive, beneficial,socially and personally desirable behaviors.”
When You Feel Good, You’re on Your Path toward Your Purpose
The 2007 paper also found that “Positive emotions signalprogress that is appropriate or better than appropriate, whereas negativeemotions signal progress that is slower than expected or desired.”
Other research that directly investigated how emotions andpurpose, reported that believing our life has a purpose affects our mood foundthat we are more likely to feel that our lives are meaningful when we are in agood mood. One reason may be because thingsfeel more meaningful when we feel good.
Choosing positive behaviors that feel good when you choosethem is a good way to fulfill your purpose in life.
Stay true to yourself. You might feel like you have no life purpose, but it could just be a feeling. After honestly answering questions about what you love the most, there is no reason for you not to have a purpose.
What you love the most is your life purpose. You just need to remind yourself about it and be more observant of your thoughts, feelings, and the facts about what you love and how it would impact your life.
Your life purpose has always been there all along. Now, let’s get going.