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I recently went through a near death experience, where I found myself getting emergency, life-saving surgery after what I thought was a pointless trip to the ER.
Before being wheeled back to surgery I did the hardest thing I have ever done, I looked at my sweet, kind, wonderful husband, and told him, “If I don’t wake up, I want you to have a long and happy life without me.”
The look on his face broke me.
I love that man so much, and all I want is for him to be happy. In that moment, my purpose was making sure that he had a long and happy life. I felt it so clearly, almost a panicking sensation with how big that purpose felt, and how little time I had to make sure that it happened, whether or not I would be there any longer. I was running out of time to make sure it happened.
According to studies, only 25% of American’s say they feel a sense of purpose. That leaves a lot of the rest of us questioning, what is the meaning of life? How do I live with purpose? What is my purpose? Since, thankfully, I did wake up, and I get to stick around to have that long and happy life alongside my husband, that sense of panic has eased. I get to have our happy life together, and that has got me questioning what other purpose might I have in life?
Eudaimonia is a Greek word meaning happiness, but its true definition goes beyond happiness. Often happiness is self-serving, and we are getting instead of giving. To truly flourish and have a deep sense of meaning and purpose, we must also be giving of ourselves. This goes beyond just things that make us happy, it’s finding the strengths, passions, and skills that reside within us, and finding a way to connect them in meaningful ways to us, to the outside world. It’s deeper, and less superficial. That is the key to finding and living our purpose. But, how on earth do we do that?
According to science, having something or someone to live for does give us a greater sense of purpose, but we will get to that in a bit.
We talk about how to lead a life we love that is full, but what is our purpose? Why are we here? And, what is the meaning of life? Those are questions that have been rattling around my brain lately.
What that means will be different to everyone, but I have started living in a way to cultivate that feeling of purpose.
Ways to Find Purpose
Volunteering is one way to find meaning and purpose in life, but do it in a way that feels good and meaningful to you. So often, I see people volunteering (myself included) for things that we don’t even like to do. You are not going to find fulfillment and in something that is a chore and doesn’t make your soul sing. Find something that feels meaningful to you, volunteer for that, and let that be part of your purpose. It doesn’t need to be something officially organized, it can be on your own terms. Volunteering can be with your time, which is how we traditionally think of volunteering, however, volunteering can also be with your skills, are you a graphic designer who can create a logo or graphics for a local dog shelter? That is meaningful. Are you a lawyer, and can give time to help with the legal requirements for your church? And, it can also be financially. Sometimes we simply don’t have time or space to give time or skills, but giving financially can also feel very meaningful. Giving, whether it be time, skills, or financially, can make us feel a true sense of purpose.
Asking Meaningful Questions
You may or may not know that I was a psych major in college, so bear with me while I majorly geek out here for a moment. This stuff is fascinating! A study was done on cancer patient support groups. There were two types of groups, one that talked about things like how to talk to providers, and the need for support. Those sound like normal things to discuss in a support group. But, the other groups asked more meaningful and deep questions like, what has made you who you are today, and what is the meaning of life after being diagnosed? In the groups that asked these deep and meaningful questions, the patients had fewer physical symptoms, reported higher quality of life, and were more likely to want to live.
If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will. So let’s have insightful, meaningful discussions with people. And, that will help us have a greater sense of purpose as well as help those we are talking to.
Get a Pet
Remember that study that said when you have a reason for living, you can have a greater sense of purpose? Now, it goes without saying you should only get a pet of you want one, have the means to take care of a pet, and will commit to giving your pet good care, but having something to care for, and live for, like a pet, can give us a sense of purpose. There is a reason that dog owners live longer than non-pet owners. When we have something we need to care for, it gives us a sense of purpose. And, unlike pure hedonistic happiness, caring for something, or someone, else doesn’t necessarily make us happy all the time – I’m certainly not happy when my sweet little Yorkiepoo, Kimo pees on the carpet – but it does give us a deep sense of purpose.
I’ve never been a fan of the saying, fake it ’til you make it. As a recovering Type A, high-strung, perfectionist, the idea of faking something instead of doing it perfectly gave me hives. But, I’m working on being more centered, calm, relaxed, and turns out, there is something to that saying. I have been spending time with the Bloom app, a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) app that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in therapy in their pocket. And, one of the sessions talked about purpose, and living our purpose. They proposed that by simply living and doing things that we thought of as meaningful, our brains find purpose in life. And, feel fulfilled by that sense of purpose.
I was lucky. I had a successful surgery. And then another, and another. And, every time I wake up to my husband’s handsome face. When life sidelines you, you start to think about bigger picture things. I found myself in a situation where, suddenly, in literal hours, the things that were important to me instantly evaporated. This made room for bigger and better things. I may not have entirely figured out my purpose, but In living my life seeking meaning, I find that I am finding my way and finding my purpose more each day.