“All of us want to believe that there is some purpose and meaning to our life, that we are connected to something larger than ourselves. We want to feel some weight and significance to what we have done. Without that conviction, we experience an emptiness and depression that we will ascribe to other factors”. ~Robert Greene in The Laws of Human Nature
Because you are human and aware of your mortality, you are searching for purpose – whether you realize it or not. And when you come up emptyhanded you’re frustrated (and confused as to why).
Typically, your frustrations can be ascribed to other factors – you’re depressed because you are twenty pounds overweight or because you are not married or because you’re not promoted.
But the reality is, you don’t have a purpose and rather than dump most of your energy into your purpose, you dump it into bottomless pit things that don’t ever satisfy you completely like serial dating, or binge eating, or binge Netflix watching.
Purpose and fulfillment are not really easy to come by because generally speaking the human race is overstimulated and the volume of interactions we have on any given day is so overwhelming, we lack the opportunity or chance to go deep – to transcend.
Instead of picking one or two topics to dig deep on, we pay attention to Facebook, work drama, Insta, Twitter, and our bank account – none of which truly matter. This spreads our energy over a bunch of things that are shallow and we experience emptiness versus fulfillment.
So what does any of this have to do with your health?
Well, because you’re on the hunt for a purpose (whether you know it or not, you are), you tend to go for the quick and dirty ways of feeling happy or purposeful – which can trick your mind into feeling like you have direction. The mind is hungry for it. So, the mind will do what it needs to have its daily warm bath. It’s not a huge fan if not being stimulated the way it wants to be stimulated.
You turn to things like alcohol. I know, I’ve picked on alcohol a lot lately, sorry alcohol. But it’s true. Going out after work with co-workers to drink and bitch about work gives us some level of connectedness in the moment. But the problem? It’s short-lived because it’s not deep and doesn’t last long.
Another way you get a quick hit is through food. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ve had a handful of spiritual moments with food and it seemed purposeful. But again, this has a tendency to come and go and not last very long. Especially if and when the food is the main focus rather than, the company, the environment, the sunset over the water, etc.
So if you’re reaching for things to satisfy your mind, like alcohol or food, this will likely have a negative impact on your health all around.
First, excessive caloric intake will make you gain weight and the bottom line is, if this is cool with you and you feel good about it, go for it! But if this makes you a little crazy because your jeans aren’t fitting, you’re uncomfortable in your skin, you’re sluggish and unhealthy, you’re not yourself, there’s something telling you to adjust what you’re doing.
Second, these quick hits don’t allow you to dig deep into finding your purpose in life because they’ll temporarily satisfy the brain’s wishes to feel good. Momentary thrills don’t have the long term side effects that are required to live a purposeful life.
Third, if you search for meaning through these things you’ll also throw off your mental health. Because eventually, the shallow fulfillment loses its luster and doesn’t “do” anything for you. Like when you need four glasses of wine to take the edge off versus one. I don’t have to over-explain this for you to see where this can start becoming a problem. The more you need something, and it has negative side effects in life the more dangerous it can become. If it takes more and more for the numbing to kick in, the numbing substance can start to cause a lot of pain in your life.
Robert Greene in Laws of Human Nature explains, “No matter the objects of the pursuit, they tend to lead to a dynamic of diminishing returns. The moments of pleasure we get tend to get duller through repetition. We need either more and more of the same or constantly new diversions. Our need often turns into addiction, and with the dependency comes a diminishing of health and mental powers. We become possessed by the objects we crave and lose ourselves.”
I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult to find your purpose and sometimes you’ll feel absolutely sure you’ve found it only to feel lost again.
So how do you do it?
How to Find Your Purpose and Have Healthy Impacts on Your Life
Go Back in Time
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever discovered is the concept of going back in time. Take yourself back to when you were a kid. This will help you reach back and discover what your natural tendencies were before the world shaped you into your adult self.
And a fair warning, this can be painful. It’s painful because its a glimpse into what your soul initially wanted for you and if you find yourself not honoring that today, it can be frustrating, sad, painful and make you angry.
But the good news is, you can look ahead and make the necessary changes to start living a purposeful life.
For me, when I reach back I see a few glaring examples of my natural tendencies.
I kept a scrapbook before scrapbooks were cool like they are today. It was a proper scrapbook. A huge book lined with blank pages to paste random shit I wanted to keep. If I look back at that, I see keepsakes from my relationships – old birthday cards, letters from my grandmother when I was in college, pictures of friends and family. Clearly, relationships and deep ones are important to me.
I see cut and pasted magazine clippings talking about winning, competition, and staying positive. I’ve always had a natural tendency to be attracted to and promotional about competition, performance and winning. I clearly have a pull toward learning, motivating, helping others be their best, performance and competition.
For me, figuring myself out was hard because I realized I’ve tempered parts of me because my attributes weren’t always popular. When I got competitive, or “coachy”, it wasn’t always accepted. Some people simply “don’t want to hear it”.
Others are a bit put off from my desire to win because they see it as aggressive. And we all know with the laws of masculine and feminine leanings, aggressive women are not always welcome.
But, nonetheless, this can serve me well too. And it has but my natural tendency to be accepted creeps in and I start going against my soul, my purpose, and I feel lost.
It’s important to stick to who you’ve been for a long time even if it does make you uncomfortable from time to time because this is your god-given talents. Your natural talents are needed to keep you at your best. They’re needed to help others which is what we’re all here to do. Help each other. They’re your unique gifts, not to be ignored.
Start Paying More Attention to You and Your Soul
Most of how we spend our adult life is making decisions based on logic. Emotional decisions have always been discouraged.
How many times in your life have you been told, “don’t be emotional”? Or, “don’t make emotional decisions”.
But then you hear things like, “listen to your heart”.
What a confusing mess!
So, which is it? Emotional/heartfelt decision making or logical?
I argue neither. Decisions need to be a collective agreement between your mind, body, and soul with a majority of votes coming from your soul. And to be clear, soul/emotions/heart – all equal the same thing.
And the thing is, you can’t say, don’t be emotional and then say, listen to your heart. Its contradictory. If you have a heavy emotion pop up, guess what? That’s your heart and soul begging for your attention. And it does mean something.
Your job is to figure out what your soul/heart is trying to say. And the logic part needs to enter the scene only when you need something executed once you’ve listened to your heart and soul and figured out what they want to do. Then the logical/mind part is to go ahead and get the job done.
For example, I was offered a great opportunity for a full-time job and turned it down. Everything in my mind said – logically, you should take the job. But everything in my soul said, don’t do it.
Logically, it was a great move. More money and perhaps a longer-term payout because it was a start-up.
But the reality was, I listened to what my soul said and my soul said, no. We’re not going to jump on board just because society wants us to desire more money, a bigger title when it’s not what we want for our life. We must stay the course even when the mind is kicking and screaming.
You can also apply this to your health. Listening is so key to following the right path. But unfortunately, we train ourselves, through dieting, to shut off signals from our bodies. When we eat something that upsets our stomach, gives us gas, makes us feel groggy rather than listen to the body say no thank you, we let the mind (the logical side) take over by shaming us into what we ate.
What we should ask is, did this feed my body satisfactorily? Does my soul feel good about this? And if the answer is no, change it. But don’t let your mind go crazy on the rest of your self just because its concerned with BS things like “great, now we’re going to get fat”. That’s the most shallow logical thing to let in and dictate behavior.
Spend time asking yourself what you really want. What does your body really want? How do you really want to feed your soul? Basically, the mind is the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to your life’s operating system. But we all too often let it be the queen in charge. Start listening more to your body and your soul. They trump the mind all day every day.
This also helps you drive purpose in your life because if you can’t even listen to what your body wants how are you expected to pick up on what the soul wants? If direct signals get ignored constantly you’ll never be able to sort out the noise and land on what your true north is.
Listening to yourself is critical to living a purposeful and healthy life.
Put Pen to Paper
Dan Buettner, the author of The Blue Zones of Happiness, says the best way to find your purpose is to write down what you’re good at, what you like to do, your values, and what you have to give. He says this combination is what will help you understand what your purpose is.
Like most things in life, this will take time. Unless you know yourself so well you can sit down right now and spit this all out. If you can, that’s great. But if you can’t, that’s okay! Take your time with this, it’s important its well thought out.
A few suggestions on how to sort each one out:
What you’re good at: What do people say about you? Either to your face or to other people. Don’t be scared to ask your closest friends and family who you trust with your vulnerability what they think you’re good at. This will help with getting clearer.
What do you like to do: This is where paying attention to you versus the multiple social media apps on your phone comes in handy. Rather than trying to avoid yourself, pay attention to you! When something bothers you, ask why. When you feel super happy, look around and say, why am I so happy right now. What is it about this situation that’s making me happy. That’s how to figure out what you like and don’t like – start paying attention and write it down!
Your values: Most people just assume they know what their values are because they “are a good person”. So, of course, your values are likely in line with what a good person does – those are your values. Things like honesty. But really your values need to be clearly defined as things that you think are important in the way you live and work. So, if your health is one of your values, then that should drive how you live. Do you take walks? Exercise? Take breaks at work to give yourself some space from the stress and reset mentally? Values should be things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.
So let’s say you value community. You think one of the most important things is to have multiple people in the town involved in the same thing and you all collectively take care of the community, together. Great purposeful action with this would then be, you are had of community affairs as a volunteer or full-time at the local chamber of commerce. And you involve your kids in community service. You offer yourself to the local church as a volunteer on a regular basis. If you value community and are not doing these things then you’ll feel off. Things won’t be aligned for you. It’s important to not only point out what your value is but what does it actually mean and translate to? For me, I value honesty. And I vow to give my friends and family my true opinion without being scared of what the consequence might be. I have such a heavy value for honesty, and its a gift of mine to be frank with people in a tactful way. I commit to being honest with others even if its hard to hear. This helps other people! So my value translates into purpose. And yours should too. Don’t just state the value, define it and apply it.
What do you have to give? If you want to give something but you don’t have it to give, you’ll feel exhausted all the time. Let’s just say you wish to give millions of dollars to your favorite charity. But, you have a “normal” 9-5 job, a house in the suburbs, two kids, a dog, and a husband. Chances are good you don’t have millions of dollars to give.
A less tangible example is – let’s say you’re a mom and a lot of what you give is nurturing energy to your children. When someone asks you to volunteer at a local children’s shelter, you’re likely not going to have enough nurturing energy for those children too. And that’s okay. You don’t have that to give right now. But what do you have to give?
If you don’t get this all right the first time, its okay. Just keep trying because never paying any attention to it will inevitably frustrate you. You’ll be empty. You’ll reach for shallow fulfillment that does not last.
If you have no clue, stop ignoring your natural instinct as a human to find purpose and begin doing the work – it has the potential to completely change yours and others’ lives.