One of the key elements of a flourishing, fulfilling life is a sense of purpose that allows us to find our passions, pursue important goals and ultimately live lives of authentic happiness. Most of us go about our lives without actively thinking about what purpose we are trying to accomplish. However, there are steps we can take to develop a more deliberate awareness of our goals and achieve lives of meaning.
1. Define your goals.
First, be clear about your purpose and intentions: Who do you want to be? How do you want to live? What do you want to do? How are you going to do it? Then explore the roads that lead to your goals and the obstacles in your way. Often, these obstacles will become opportunities for growth and change.
Purpose is about intention—having goals that help build the framework for your plans and fulfillment in life. Those goals can be large or small in scope. If you want to eat more healthfully, you’ll be motivated to buy more fruits and vegetables. If you want to have a positive effect on the environment, learn more about the issues and join like-minded people so you can get your cause on the next ballot.
2. Look at the big picture, then fill in the details.
From the time you are small, those around you—from your parents to the society at large—influence you, tell you what is important and how they expect you to live. While these influences can be helpful, it is crucial to find your own meaning and purpose. The easiest way to begin is to look at the big picture and then work out the small details.
3. Consult your morals and values.
If you want to live with purpose, you need to understand and explore what you value most. If you value teaching children, you can focus on that area. If you value creating beauty, you can grow a beautiful garden or express yourself through art or music. If you value helping others, we can find a way to make that happen.
4. Use strengths and build up weaknesses.
Often we need the weaker parts of ourselves in order to accomplish what we desire. If you feel stuck in an unsatisfying job because you are averse to risk-taking, work on building up your courage. If you struggle with time management and don’t have time to add volunteer responsibilities you’re interested in, work on your organizational skills and start small with just an hour every other week.
5. Think about your legacy.
Imagine what kind of legacy you would like to leave. Erik Erikson, an expert in psychological development, focused on the stages of change across the life span. He called the final stage in life “Ego Integrity vs. Despair.” This reckoning happens at the sunset of life, when you reflect on your past and decide\ what you are satisfied with and what you regret. Before getting to that stage, think about what messages you want to leave behind about who you are and what is important to you. This will help shape your purpose and goals.
We all want to live a life of purpose. The key is to figure out what in life creates meaning for you, and then create goals and behaviors that support your intentions.
Stacy Kaiser is a licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and an editor at large for Live Happy. Stacy is a frequent guest on television programs such as Today and Good Morning America.