Living Life On Purpose

Jennifer Means, MBA, CFP®

Aug 4, 2023

We have a TCI client who loves animals and years ago, adopted two dogs that became her beloved companions. Throughout their lives and especially as each dog neared his and her end, our client spent many anxious hours in the veterinary hospital waiting room to ensure they received the care they needed. She grieved the loss of her first dog, and then the next five years later. Despite the heartbreak of losing her two pups, she was very grateful her dogs had received skilled veterinary care that afforded them a good quality of life. Her experience led her to think about the many animal rescues and shelters which lack the funds to fully support injured, abused and abandoned animals in need of medical assistance, and she resolved to do something to help. Ultimately, our client’s caring and commitment to this issue led her to form a nonprofit. She is devoted to this cause, and it’s not at all an understatement to say that helping these animals is her purpose in life.

We all know people like this client, who are driven by a sense of purpose and strive to live in alignment with their values and goals while working to make a positive difference in the world. Psychologists often say that purpose is not a destination, but a journey and a practice. Why do we hear so much about the value of having purpose in life, and why should we pursue it?

The Benefits of Knowing Your Purpose

Science has been paying a lot of attention to this field of study over recent years, and researchers have found that people from young to old who have a sense of purpose also report feeling higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Aside from the psychological attributes of having purpose in life, physical benefits have been implied by research results, as well. One study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants who reported higher levels of purpose at the time of the study enjoyed better physical agility four years later, as compared to those who reported a lesser sense of purpose. Research done in 2013 suggested that having purpose in life reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke in older adults, and more recent studies have shown a correlation between having a sense of purpose and better cognitive functioning, greater longevity and lower stress levels.

Purpose is sometimes compared to happiness, and fields from psychology to philosophy have always debated the difference. Regardless of where you stand on that point, it seems clear that having purpose can drive a greater sense of happiness, and vice versa. Much more research is needed to clarify exactly how having a sense of purpose could produce such positive psychological and physical outcomes, but given the potential benefits to our overall well-being, exploring our own unique purpose in life seems like a worthwhile exercise.

A sense of purpose is malleable and manifests itself in different areas of our lives, evolving as our life circumstances change. In our personal lives, we often find purpose in our relationships, roles, interests, and communities by, for example, raising a family, being a mentor to someone, or volunteering for a cause we believe in. Meaningful work, too, often sparks a sense of purpose. TCI is an organization with well-defined core values and a stated mission to empower purpose-filled lives, and I know that my colleagues and I derive a strong sense of purpose from the work we do to help our clients balance wealth and well-being.

Tools to Help Find Your Purpose

Identifying what gives you purpose in life is like defining your own personal mission statement. The process and results are immensely satisfying, but it can be tough to get started. Engaging in some introspection, thinking about how past and present experiences have been meaningful to you, the values, interests, and skills you have or want to develop and how you would imagine your ideal future can all be helpful in seeking out your purpose.

A fellow Advisor encourages anyone and everyone to explore Greater Good for anything and everything related to living a fulfilling and purposeful life. For over twenty years, the related Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has sponsored scientific research that explores the many social and emotional components of well-being. When I checked it out myself, I loved learning how GGSC shares the practical applications of their research on their website, and has a robust collection of articles specific to exploring a sense of purpose. One great place to start is an article entitled “Seven Ways to Find Your Purpose in Life.”

Based on their research, GGSC also provides easy and interesting exercises you could try, including these two:

  • Best Possible Self: The idea here is to journal for a few minutes a day over a two-week period about the best possible life you can imagine, in any areas relevant to you such as career, relationships, hobbies, health and wealth. This can build your optimism about the future and provide motivation to work toward that desired life you envisioned, which may in turn set you on the path toward becoming your best and most purposeful self.  
  • Magic Wand: This exercise guides you to imagine what you would change in the world if you could wave your magic wand and make it so. Then, you can reflect on what it would take to further this change, and how you might be able to help. This practice may be particularly helpful if you sense that community service could be a meaningful source of purpose in your life.

Most of us want to experience a sense of purpose as part of living a full and meaningful life, but for some, it’s not always easy to identify. If you are seeking your purpose in life, your TCI team will gladly brainstorm with you about how to start moving down that path of exploration. After all, this topic fits perfectly into the life strategy conversations we have with our clients about their values, goals, interests, and desires. Talk with us—we want to share our collective wisdom to help empower you to live the best, most purpose-filled life you can envision for yourself and those you care about.

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