7 Ways To Find Your Purpose in Life

7 Ways To Find Your Purpose in Life

2. Reflect on what matters most

Sometimes it can be hard to single out one or two things that matter most to you because your circle of care and concern is far-ranging. Understanding what you value most may help you narrow down your purpose in life to something manageable that also truly resonates with you.

There are several good values surveys to choose from, including these three recommended by PositivePsychology.com: the Valued Living Questionnaire, the Portrait Values Questionnaire, and the Personal Values Questionnaire. All have been used in research studies and may be helpful to those who feel overwhelmed by all they want to change.

Bronk found that helping people prioritize their values is useful for finding purpose in life. The survey used in Greater Good’s purpose challenge—where students were asked to look at common values and rank which were most important, least important, and in between—has been shown to be effective in helping people clarify their purpose.

Once you’re clearer on your deepest values, Bronk recommends asking yourself: What do these values say about you as a person? How do these values influence your daily life? How might they relate to what you want to do with the rest of your life? Doing this exercise can help you discover how you can put your values to use.

3. Recognize your strengths and talents

We all have strengths and skills that we’ve developed over our lifetimes, which help make up our unique personalities. Yet some of us may be unsure of what we have to offer.

If we need help, a survey like the VIA Character Strengths Survey can be useful in identifying our personal strengths and embracing them more fully. Then, you can take the results and think about how you can apply them toward something you really care about.

But it can also be helpful to ask others—teachers, friends, family, colleagues, mentors—for input.

In the Purpose Challenge, students were asked to send emails to five people who knew them well and to pose questions like:

  • What do you think I’m particularly good at?
  • What do you think I really enjoy?
  • How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world?

Adults can do this if they need feedback, too—either formally or informally in conversation with trusted others. People who know you well may be able to see things in you that you don’t recognize in yourself, which can point you in unexpected directions. On the other hand, there is no need to overly rely on that feedback if it doesn’t resonate. Getting input is useful if it clarifies your strengths—not if it’s way off base.

Related: This Optical Illusion Test Reveals Your Secret Strengths And Weaknesses

4. Try volunteering

Finding purpose in life involves more than just self-reflection. According to Bronk, it’s also about trying out new things and seeing how those activities enable you to use your skills to make a meaningful difference in the world. Volunteering in a community organization focused on something of interest to you could provide you with some experience and do good at the same time.

Working with an organization serving others can put you in touch with people who share your passions and inspire you. In fact, it’s easier to find and sustain purpose with others’ support—and a do-gooder network can introduce you to opportunities and a community that shares your concern. Volunteering has the added benefit of improving our health and longevity, at least for some people.

However, not all volunteer activities will lead to a sense of purpose. “Sometimes volunteering can be deadening,” warns Stanford University researcher Anne Colby. “It needs to be engaging. You have to feel you’re accomplishing something.” When you find a good match for you, volunteering will likely “feel right” in some way—not draining, but invigorating.

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Jill Suttie

Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is a staff writer and contributing editor for Greater Good. Her articles cover the science and practice of positive human emotion and behavior, impacts of racial bias, technology, nature, music, and social policy on individual mental health, relationships, and society. Outside of working for Greater Good, she does freelance writing for other publications, has been a featured guest on podcasts, and is a musician with two CD's of original songs, both available on her personal website: jillsuttie.com. She received her doctorate at the University of San Francisco and worked in private practice as a psychologist prior to coming to Greater Good.View Author posts