What’s my purpose in life?
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wondered…
Why am I here?
What’s the point of life?
Is existence really just empty and meaningless, or is there something more here than waking up, eating, earning a living, and going to sleep every day?
What is My Life Purpose?
This is a great question to ask yourself because it forces you to think bigger and find meaning in your life.
All the world’s best books, religious texts, and major philosophies share one common message:
Our life purpose is to do good and be good.
That is the definition of an ideal human being: someone who does good things in the world.
Imagine what your life will be like on your deathbed. You’re surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones, and you know today is your last day on Earth. What will you be grateful for? What will you be proud of in life? What will you regret?
If you go through this quick visualization exercise, you’ll realize you’ll be grateful for and proud of all the good in life (good things you’ve done and good things others have done) and you’ll regret the bad in life (bad things you’ve done and bad things others have done).
Could the answer to our life purpose really be as simply as doing good and being good?
That’s what the world’s greatest stories, religions, and philosophers all seem to agree on.
Being “good” is a universal human ideal.
Those who walk the path of good and stay clear of evil live the most purposeful and meaningful lives; they are the heroes we all celebrate in great stories, in history books, and in our memories.
You become an adult when you realize you are the hero of your own story, and it’s up to you to make the right choices in life.
The Problem With Finding Purpose
But there’s also a really big problem with the question “What’s my life’s purpose?”
The problem is that the question assumes you have one purpose in life, and that all you have to do is find that one thing that really matters, and then do that one thing, and then you’ll magically live happily ever after.
Life just doesn’t work that way.
You don’t just have to do one thing in life to live your purpose—there are countless ways you can live your purpose in life.
Part of becoming a mature, adult human being is expressing your life’s purpose in many different ways. People who live full, exciting, amazing lives don’t just do one thing with purpose—they do everything with purpose!
There are countless ways you can be and do good in the world. That means there are unlimited possibilities for you to find, express, and share your purpose in life.
Here are some common areas of life in which you can find and express your life’s purpose:
- Acts of service: Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or help out someone in need.
- Charity: Donate $10 or more to an organization whose mission you believe in.
- Acts of kindness: Smile at a stranger or give someone a hug who looks like they need it.
- Meaningful work: Find work you love to do, and pour 100% of your effort, commitment, and creativity into your work.
- Meaningful relationships: Find people you respect and admire and commit to being their most important friend, partner, associate, or colleague.
- Family: Get married, have children, raise your kids well, and do everything you can to help your family live their best lives.
- Teaching: Share your knowledge with others every chance you get.
- Learning: Use your mind to discover new things and better understand the world. You never know how that one idea or fact you learn could change your life or change the world.
- Hobbies: Find a hobby you deeply enjoy and go all out. Life’s too short to half-ass a great hobby.
- Spirituality and Religion: Whatever you believe in, study it, practice it, and teach it to those who want to learn.
- Forgiveness: If there’s anyone who harmed you and you haven’t forgiven them yet, go forgive them.
- Health: Take care of yourself like you would take care of your child or favorite pet. Most people treat their dogs better than they treat themselves—don’t make that mistake!
- Achievement: Set meaningful goals constantly, and strive to achieve them.
- Personal growth and development: Work harder on yourself than you work on anything else. If you continually develop yourself, there’s no limit to the positive impact you can make in the world.
I could go on with this list forever because there are unlimited ways to live with purpose.
If you keep this in mind, you’ll always find the right thing to do:
You should always do your best and aim for the best in everything you do in life.
When you give your best effort, make good decisions, and aim for the best possible outcome, you will find purpose in every single act in life, from washing dishes to saving a child’s life. There is no good act too small for someone living life on purpose.
That’s what the Buddha and others have called enlightenment.
Purpose is What You Do, Not Something You Find
Another problem with the question, “What’s my purpose in life?” is that it’s misleading because purpose isn’t something you simply discover.
The belief system that stops so many people from living with purpose has three parts:
1) You don’t currently have a purpose in life
2) You have to go find your purpose
3) Once you find your purpose, you’ll live happily ever after
These ideas present the “purpose fantasy” that so many people live in today. We think we’re missing something (purpose) that we have to work really hard to go find it (somehow, somewhere, as if by magic), and that once we get what we’re missing, we’ll be perfect, whole, and complete.
It’s all a lie.
Purpose isn’t something you find. Purpose is something you do. You live your purpose through every single action you take and decision you make in life.
Purpose is something you were born with and something you will die with. It has always been a part of you and always will be, and there’s nothing you can do to escape it. You certainly don’t have to go find it.
You just have to pay attention and notice it. We all have a conscience, intuition, and emotions for a reason. They’re there to guide you to the right path in life.
Enlightenment and Purpose
Enlightenment is a big, fancy, oft-misunderstood word, but the concept is really quite simple.
In every situation, you have a choice. You can choose to do anything you want in life. You can choose to do good by helping yourself and others, or to do evil by harming yourself and others.
An enlightened person chooses to do good in every situation. It is not an easy path to walk in life, but it is the right path, and deep down, we all know this is the truth. You don’t have to become some kind of guru to become enlightened.
Sometimes you will feel conflicted and have to make a tough choice. It may seem like you have to give up something you care deeply about in order to do the right thing. But if you know it’s the right thing to do, then you must do it if you want to live your life’s purpose and do good. That’s making the right sacrifice.
Sacrifice is taught in all ancient societies, religions, and cultures. Every culture understands the importance of sacrifice. You can’t live your purpose without making the right sacrifices in life.
The Purpose of Sacrifice
The purpose of sacrifice is to burn away all the old, outdated, and no-longer-useful things in life—the old you, your old habits, the old ways that don’t work anymore. By letting go of the old, you make room for the new.
You’ve heard this story told a million times before. It’s the story of the phoenix burning itself alive and coming back to life, of Harry Potter laying his life on the line to defeat Voldemort, and of Jesus Christ dying on the cross and being resurrected.
It is the story of the hero that is common to all cultures and all humans. It is the hero’s journey to make the right sacrifice, meaning to make the right decision for “the best,” for “the good,” or for “God.”
Sacrifice is not something you do once a year on a holiday and then go back to your old life and old habits. It’s something you do every day, in every area of life, every time you make a decision.
You decide to do the right thing, even when it’s tough, because you know it’s the right thing to do.
The ultimate sacrifice.
And you don’t have to be Harry Potter, a phoenix, or the Buddha to do the right thing in life.
You, my friend, can become just as enlightened and make just as much of a positive difference in the world as anyone who has ever lived or anyone who ever will.
The choice is yours.
Will you live your purpose in life?
Will you make the right sacrifice, again and again and again, no matter how hard life gets?
Will you live your life as a hero?
We All Share a Common Purpose
Every human being is unique, but we all share the same purpose in life: to do good.
Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Republican, Democrat, woman, man, trans, white, black, colored … whatever you call yourself, whatever you believe, however you live your life, we all share this common purpose.
And because we’re all unique, when we truly take on this responsibility and live our purpose, we’ll each act differently. We each express this shared purpose in our own way, and that’s what makes human society so complex and so beautiful.
Life Purpose and Religion
As I’m sure you can tell by now, you don’t have to believe in religion or God to find or live your life purpose. Of course, there’s nothing wrong if you do.
After all, it would be foolish and arrogant to think all of our ancestors were complete idiots for believing in religion and God. Even if you’re an atheist (as I have been for most of my life), understanding the evolution of the idea of God can be very helpful when it comes too clarifying your life purpose.
You have to remember that human beings evolved.
Just like squirrels and lobsters and elephants, we evolved to survive over the past 4 billion years. That’s a really long time.
And over those 4 billion years, every single one of your ancestors survived long enough to have offspring—your great-great-great-great grandparents and so on all survived and had children successfully, who then had more children, again, and again, and again.
For 4 billions years.
If there were even just one single exception to that chain, you wouldn’t exist.
Do you really think your life doesn’t have purpose, after all of that?
Do you really think all of your ancestors struggled against disease, famine, war, poverty, climate change, predators, freezing cold, scorching deserts, miscarriages, heartbreak, betrayal, and so much more, for 4 billion years … for no reason at all?
If you had any idea how hard your ancestors fought to survive and bring you to life, you wouldn’t take even one second of your cozy, privileged life with internet, Game of Thrones, and candy corn for granted. You would realize that the struggles, pain, and challenges in your life are simply part of the part of the natural cycle of life that’s been going on for billions of years.
Trust me: you’re here for a reason.
And just as your ancestors survived to pass down their DNA from one generation to the next, their culture and ideas survived and were passed down from generation to generation. Their culture and ideas served a purpose and were part of the reason they survived.
Were there no atheists among past generations, cultures, and tribes of humans? Of course there were. They just didn’t survive.
The idea of God evolved from one generation to the next. It was passed down just like DNA. How did that happen? Our ancestors started telling stories of heroes and good people. And they collected and shared those stories from one generation to the next. Generation after generation, our ancestors spent much of their time sharing and remembering stories.
The idea of God is a story passed down throughout human history.
Why did all of our ancestors pass down these stories? Because they were foolish, naïve, and primitive? If they were, they were the least foolish, naïve, and primitive of their time because they’re the only ones who survived.
The much more likely answer is: They survived because their stories gave them strength to keep fighting no matter how hard their life got. And trust me, if you think your life is hard, the challenges and struggles you face pale in comparison to the cumulative struggles our ancestors faced over the last few billion years.
So what does God represent in all of these stories? The ultimate good in life.
God is the Hero, the archetypal Perfect Being.
We are beings too. Those who believe in God and follow the teachings of our ancestors “walk the path of God.” That means they aim for the highest good, and that they have a moral duty or calling to always make the right choice—to do good, and not to do evil.
We should all strive to act good and be aligned with the ultimate good in life.
The words or stories you use to describe the ultimate good in life don’t matter nearly as much as the way you act.
Who do you think truly walks the path of God? The hyper-religious person who abuses children or the regular person who volunteers to help children get educated and get access to better health care?
You can say what you want. But God and the rest of us aren’t listening to your words as much as we’re watching what you do. If you want to be a good human being, prove it through your actions.
Life is a Gift
Life is a gift passed down from our ancestors against all odds over 4 billion years.
Some say God gave us life. What could that mean? It means life is the greatest gift in the world, a manifestation of the highest good. Life is good, and we should all treat life with respect and reverence—our own lives and the lives of other humans and other organisms.
Our ancestors all treated life that way. That’s why every single one of them had children.
Trees, insects, birds, plants, and even bacteria live that way too—all living beings treat life as sacred and act to preserve and prolong life to the best of their ability.
The definition of sacred is “highly valued and important.” Life inherently has morality built into it—life is highly valued and important, because if it wasn’t it couldn’t exist and survive for so long on this planet. Good is what preserves, prolongs, and passes on life. Bad or evil is what destroys life.
You are alive! That is a gift so precious and so valuable it’s easy to take it for granted. Really, when you think back over the 4 billion years of the history of your ancestors on this planet, how could you call it anything but a miracle?
And how could you not be grateful for the life you’ve been blessed with?
When you stop being grateful for the life you have, it’s easy to get cynical, lose your way, or become nihilistic. And that’s dangerous.
The definition of nihilistic according to Google dictionary is:
“Rejecting all religious and moral principles in the belief that life is meaningless.”
When someone becomes nihilistic, they lose sight of their purpose in life so much that they think there is no purpose. That life is meaningless.
Well, my friend, if life is meaningless, what’s the point, right?
The problem with nihilism is that it’s just 100% plain wrong. It’s a lie. And you know this is true because, for 4 billion years, not one of your ancestors acted out that belief. If they had, they would have killed themselves or not had children.
Remember, your ancestors are the ones who survived and had offspring for 4 billion years straight without one single exception. They are the winners. They are the ones who made it. Everyone weaker, dumber, or lazier than them died… but each one of your ancestors made it.
And a big part of the reason they survived while so many others died is because of their belief system. They believed life had purpose. We know this because every culture has a religion or belief system by which they operate. They learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, on and on and on way back in time before human history was ever recorded.
If you believe in evolution and science, then you have to believe the evolution of the stories, religions, cultures, and belief systems that helped our ancestors survived served a purpose and therefore contain valuable truth.
And that valuable truth that’s universal to all human cultures from every part of planet Earth is the same:
Make the right sacrifices (choices) in life.
That is the purpose of life, according to evolution.
Love and Purpose
“Love thy neighbor as you love yourself.”
“Do unto others as you would do unto yourself.”
The Golden Rule. It’s ancient.
These quotes contain the same principle and idea, and this idea is shared throughout every human culture and way of life.
Love others like you love yourself. Love yourself. Love God. Do good. It all means the same thing.
Love is an emotion you feel. But it goes way beyond that. These ancient teachings aren’t about changing how you feel. The purpose of these teachings is to change how you act.
Act like you love others as much as you love yourself. Act like you love yourself. Act like you love God. Act like you love life. Act like you love.
So many people make the mistake of thinking, “Well, if I felt better, then I would act better.” That’s nonsense!
If you act better, you will feel better. If you want to feel more live, act like you love. If you want to feel more happiness, act like you’re happy.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s how you make the world better, and it’s how you make your own experience of life better.
There is so much research now proving that this is how the human body, mind, and brain works—when you act a certain way, you change how you feel.
Nihilistic people often feel sad, lonely, depressed, angry, and hurt.
People with purpose in life often feel happy, inspired, energetic, loving, and caring.
If you change your beliefs and your actions, you will change how you feel.
How you feel is, for the most part, entirely up to you. You can decide to act like you love, make the right sacrifices, and do good. Or not. Either way, you get the results you get based on your decision.
Life is not something the world does to you.
Life is something you do to the world.
How will you live your life? What will you do to the world?
When you answer these questions for yourself and cry tears of awe and gratitude for the gift of your life, you’ll know you’ve found your purpose in life.
Love, Don’t Hate
Knowing that love is something you act out, and hate is also something you act out, your goal should be to love as much as you can and hate as little as possible.
Notice when you feel love. Do more of that. Be with those people and in those situations more often.
When you feel love for someone else, notice what they’re doing that makes you feel that way. Make a mental note to act or behave more often in the future the way that person was acting with you.
Feeling love is a sign you’re in the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing.
Notice when you feel hate. Do less of that. Be with those people and in those situations less often. Make a mental note NOT to act or behave in the future the way that person was acting with you.
Hate is a sign you’re in the wrong place, with the wrong people, or doing the wrong thing.
Hate, like love, is something you do. You can learn to do less of it through practice.
What most people call hate or anger doesn’t have to be bad though. It can actually be a gift or blessing in disguise. Reflect on your hate or anger when it comes up. What do you think is causing it? Where is it coming from?
Are there emotions being covered up by hate or anger? Like fear? Sadness? Hurt?
Negative emotions can be your greatest guide to living your purpose, acting with love, and doing the right thing. If you’re feeling negative emotions over and over again in a certain situation in life, you’re doing something wrong.
Wouldn’t it be great to find out what’s causing your pain so you can fix it and start feeling good more often instead of feeling bad all the time?
This may be a hard truth to swallow because we so often jump to the conclusion that if we feel bad emotions about someone else, it’s their fault. They did the bad thing. We have nothing to do with it!
And sometimes that is true. Sometimes you’re just acting like a good person and other people do bad, mean, or evil things to you. It can happen.
But the truth is there aren’t many bad or evil people in the world. Jim Rohn said, there’s only about a dozen truly nasty, mean, and evil people in the world—they just move around a lot.
That means if you keep running into the same situations where you’re angry, upset, or feeling negative emotions over and over again with different people, it’s your fault.
If you only have one person in your life where you feel strong negative emotions for them, then maybe you’re right.
But if you feel strong negative emotions for many people in your life, I guarantee there’s something you’re doing (or not doing) that’s causing that bad situation and those bad emotions. And if you figure out what that is and change it, you can get back to being happy and living your life’s purpose.
Your Life’s Purpose Has Nothing to Do With Changing Other People
One trap many people fall into is thinking that you need to change others in order to make the world a better place.
You say or think things like:
- If my wife would just stop interrupting me when I’m watching the game, I would be happy…
- If my husband would just listen to me, our relationship would be better…
- If the Democrats didn’t exist, the world would be better…
- If the Republicans lost control of congress, then the country would be better…
- And on and on and on…
The problem with this type of thinking is that it’s completely backwards.
Thing about it this way: If everyone sat around at home hoping everyone else in the world would change so that the world would get better, nothing would happen. The world would be full of complainers, and we’d all eventually starve to death.
That’s why Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
That’s not just some motivational quote you share on Facebook right before you go complain about the election results and whine about how other people are ruining the world.
That’s the frickin’ secret to life.
That is your life purpose.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. Live your life in a way that changes the world. You don’t have to give billions of dollars to charity like Bill Gates to make the world a better place.
You can make the world better: one sacrifice, one choice, one small act of goodness at a time.
YOU are just as powerful as any other human being on the planet, regardless of your current age, status, position, education, background, or role in life.
How the hell else is the world going to get better if not for people like you doing good things?
Most people wait around their whole lives for someone else to make the world better. What if they don’t show up?
You’re the one who can make the world better. The choice is yours.
Finding Direction in Life
When people ask, “What should I do with my life?” or “How do I find direction in life?” they’re asking about how to live a purposeful life. You can think of “doing the right thing” as aligning yourself in the right direction.
All of our languages reflect the importance of finding the right direction in life.
We go up to heaven, or down to hell.
We lift others up, or we drag them down.
This deep truth of good and bad is ingrained deeply in our language, but it goes much farther back than that—it’s also ingrained in our physiology.
We stand up tall when we’re happy or when we do something (good) that we’re proud of.
We cower, or crouch down, when we are afraid, upset, or trying to avoid confrontation.
In the science of body language, there are gravity-defying behaviors, actions that move our bodies up, that we do when we are happy, feeling confident, or feeling positive—like standing up straight with our shoulders back, bouncing up and down on the toes of our feet, raising our eyebrows.
When we are sad, unhappy, or upset, we move our body down—we cringe, bend our backs, and contract our abdomen such that we literally look smaller and shorter.
We look up when we feel happy.
We look down when we’re unhappy.
So the next time you or someone else talks about finding direction in life, remember that we all already know which direction to go: up!
When you choose to do the right thing in life, you’ll be looking up, and you’ll know you’re life is headed in the right direction.
How to Live Your Life’s Purpose
Once you understand that your purpose in life is to do good, then living your purpose becomes much easier. It’s not always easy to do your best and do the right thing, but understanding your purpose makes discerning right and wrong far easier than it would be otherwise.
The only big question now is: How do you want to express your purpose in life?
Life Purpose Questionnaire
Here’s a checklist of questions you can use to help you live your life purpose on a daily basis.
- How can I become a better person?
- What could I do that would make the world better?
- How can I take better care of myself?
- How could I treat others better? How could I treat my friends better? Family? Loved ones? Co-workers? Acquaintances? Strangers? Democrats? Republicans?
- What small or big act of kindness could I share with another human being today?
- How could I make my work more meaningful?
- How could I make my life more meaningful?
- How could I make my relationships more meaningful?
- How could I help myself?
- How could I help my family?
- How could I help my community
- How can I help my city?
- How can I help my country?
- How can I help the world?
- What can I learn that would serve me or serve the world?
- What can I teach or share with others that would help them?
- What brings me happiness, joy, and meaning in life? How could I do more of that?
- What brings others happiness, joy, and meaning in life? How could I support them in doing more of that?
- Who should I forgive?
- Can I forgive myself for the harms I’ve caused to myself and others?
- Can I forgive this other person who harmed me?
- How can I improve my health?
- What goals would I like to achieve in life? In the next week, month, ninety days, year, five years, in my lifetime?
- What’s on my bucket list?
- How can I grow as a human being?
- How can I develop myself?
- How could I become more mature?
- What should I start doing today?
- What should I stop doing?
- Who should I ask for help?
- Who should I offer to help?
- Where am I grasping for control in life?
- How can I let go of what’s no longer serving me or doing good?
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- Attitude of Gratitude: Why Being Grateful Can Improve Every Part of Your Life
- 7 Life Lessons from Ender’s Game
- Learning to Excel: How to Use Process Excellence to Improve Your Life
Latest posts by Tom Corson-Knowles (see all)
- The Difference Between Led and Lead - May 25, 2019
- The Difference Between Whose and Who’s - May 24, 2019
- How to Invest in Stocks and Bonds like a Pro (Even If You’re a Beginner) - May 23, 2019