How to find meaning and purpose

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One of the things many of our clients say when they come to us is that they want to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

Many of them have successful businesses or careers, great families, and a strong social network, yet they still feel that something is missing.

The idea of a ‘life purpose’ can send many people into a tail-spin. Some see it as a cliché while others feel that it is a higher calling or something only the spiritually awakened people find after meditating or praying for a certain amount of time.

So what exactly do they mean? What is ‘life purpose’ and how does it give meaning to your life?

What is ‘life purpose’?

Quite simply, your life’s purpose is the central motivating reason that you get up in the morning. It’s not so much what you do, but the emotional significance or importance of what you do. It’s your life message — the message you want to leave on the world.

However, you don’t need to be on a world stage screaming your message to the masses to have purpose in your life. You can find purpose in your work or career, through your relationships with other people, through your work with community groups, or even in how you raise your family. 

Living a purpose-filled life is discovering what is important to you, and then doing more of those things, instead of wasting or killing time doing unimportant stuff. However, what is important to you may not be important to others, and vice versa. And that’s okay.

And it’s also okay if your life purpose changes over time, because as we evolve, so does our view on the world and what seems important to us.

When you have a purpose, you have greater clarity around what to spend your time and energy on, and what is unimportant. Doing more of what is important to you, will bring meaning to your life.

Why we need a purpose

Research has shown that people with a sense of purpose who feel what they do is worthwhile tend to be healthier and live longer.  People with meaning and purpose also tend to sleep better, suffer fewer strokes and heart attacks, and have a lower risk for dementia and disability. Finally, people who feel a sense of purpose in their lives also make more money than those who don’t.

While living healthier, longer and financially comfortably are all great, the most important reason for finding your purpose in life is for your overall happiness and mental wellbeing. Because if you have a purpose in life, you’ll feel confident, and have the body and lifestyle you desire.

What happens when don’t have a purpose?

Life is meaningless

Imagine dreading waking up each day because you have no desire to work, nothing to look forward to, nothing to do that seems important, and nothing that brings you true joy. Your days are spent just going through the motions of going to work, coming home, watching TV on the couch and repeating it day after day. Sounds pretty boring, right? Unfortunately, this is the reality for most people. Work is the only reason they get up in the morning, and the only reason they go to work is to earn money to pay the bills. Everything else is meaningless.

Poor physical health

People without a purpose often feel empty inside. In an attempt to fill that void, they may use external things such as drinking too much alcohol, binge eating or emotional eating, all of which will take a toll on their weight and physical health. People with no purpose also lack the motivation to do anything, so you can be pretty sure that they don’t engage in regular exercise or make time for healthy eating.

Poor mental health

Lacking purpose in your life will cause you to feel bored, dissatisfied and empty. You may end up feeling hopeless or unable to find joy in the things that used to give you pleasure, or you may feel jealous and resentful of people who have found meaning in theirs. Having no meaning and purpose in your life can also contribute to depression, anxiety and high levels of stress. You can read more about the importance of mental health in our blog Habits to ditch if you want to improve your mental health.

Poor relationships

When you feel unfulfilled in your life, you will also feel unfulfilled in your relationships. You may end up isolating yourself from friends and loved ones because you don’t see the point in keeping connections. Any relationships you do have will be shallow ones, and likely to be toxic, rather than empowering and fulfilling. 

Why do we struggle to find meaning and purpose?

Finding your purpose in life isn’t just a cliché. It’s something that will help you have a better, happier, healthier and more fulfilled life. So why do so many people struggle to find theirs? Here are some of the common obstacles that get in the way of discovering your purpose.

Fear

People don’t find their purpose in life because they are scared. They’re afraid to take action, afraid of being judged and rejected because of their purpose, afraid of failure and scared of being found out that they lack something. Fear causes people to avoid taking action, trying new things or situations, and to run away from commitment. You can read more about fear in our blog Why fear is preventing your weight loss.

Waiting for it

You won’t discover your life’s purpose by sitting around waiting for it to drop into your lap. Yet that’s what a lot of people do. They sit around waiting to be struck by inspiration or believing that divine intervention or the cosmic universe will send them a clear message about what it is they are meant to do with their lives. But that’s exactly the point. Discovering your purpose involves doing — taking action, rather than waiting around for the universe to deliver you your purpose.

Toxic relationships

The people you spend time with will determine how fulfilling your life will be. Surrounding yourself with other people who are spending their time and lives making a positive change can help you find your own purpose and meaning in life. When you’re not fulfilled, you’ll attract other people who are not fulfilled. This is why many people without a purpose are stuck in toxic relationships and surround themselves with negative people. Spending time with people who aren’t interested in making positive contributions makes it hard for you to feel passionate and purposeful about your own life. You can read more about the dangers of toxic relationships in our blog How toxic relationships impact your weight and happiness.

Lack of self-worth

Lack of self-worth is another reason why people struggle to find their purpose in life. Lack of self-worth can often show up as imposter syndrome which sees people ask themselves “Who am I to think I have an important purpose to fulfil?” While people may want to feel as if they have a purpose, they are often afraid to go out and find it, because it means they will be required to do something, and this may mean that they will be exposed as a fraud. You can read more in our blog How low self-worth affects your weight.

Being busy

Most people are just too busy. While some of this may be due to the demands of their job and supporting a family, many people are caught up in general busyness — frantic doing that achieves very little because they are people-pleasers (which also comes back to low self-worth). To find your purpose, you need to stop distracting yourself from being busy and spend time doing the things that will help you find your purpose. You can read more about busyness in our blog The real reason you’re always too busy and how it affects your weight.

How to find meaning and purpose in your life

When you have a purpose, life becomes more meaningful. When life becomes more meaningful you’re happier. When you’re happier, you’ll have fewer metabolic blockers, which means it will be easier to lose weight. And then you’ll have the body, confidence and lifestyle you’ve always desired.

But how do you find your purpose?

Confront your fears

The first thing you need to do is to confront your fears. Until you do, you’ll always be stuck. You’ll be sitting on the sidelines, or taking the most comfortable option instead of the path that will lead you to find your life’s purpose. In this instance, you need to confront your fears of judgement and fear of failure, because until you do, life won’t be as meaningful as you would like.

Take action

Instead of sitting back and waiting for your purpose to find you, or spending time thinking about what your purpose may be, you need to take action to find it. Purpose equals passion but what most people don’t realise is that finding your passion is the result of taking action.

Think about it. How do you know what you do like, don’t like, what makes you feel happy, what makes you feel fulfilled? You only learn how certain things make you feel by doing these certain things. Sometimes you need to do things you don’t like, to understand and learn what you do like. So, start taking action. What you initially choose to do may not end up being your passion or purpose. But it will put on you on the path to finding it because one thing always leads to another.

Increase your awareness

Increasing your awareness about how you feel when you engage in certain activities, hang around certain people, or hear about certain issues will help you find your purpose. Some people feel strongly about climate change and conservation while others are passionate about helping homeless and disadvantaged people. What you feel strongly about, how you feel when you do something for the cause, and the kinds of people you encounter on your journey will give you clues or point you in the right direction to finding your purpose. You can read more about this in our blog Why you’ll never lose weight without self-awareness.

Examine your values

What is important to you? People who don’t have any purpose or direction in their lives are people who don’t know what their values are. When you don’t know your values, you’ll end up taking on other people’s values and meeting their needs and priorities, instead of doing what makes you feel fulfilled. This is a one-way ticket to misery. 

Finding your purpose means understanding what is important to you because this will determine your priorities and guide your actions. You can read more about values in our blog How your values in life determine your weight.

Surround yourself with the right people

If you want to find your purpose, you need to surround yourself with the right people and ditch the toxic ones. In this instance, the right people are those who are already taking action, rather than those who are judging other people. They are the ones who encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and don’t enable you to continue living in fear. Our blog Why you need a weight loss support network to succeed explains this in detail.  

Connect with your authentic self

Who are you? Who are you without your titles, possessions, relationships? Who are you at your very core, faults and all? Most people aren’t in tune with their authentic selves because they are afraid of being judged and abandoned by other people. This constant worrying about what other people think of them prevents them from being their true selves. But connecting with your authentic self will help you understand what drives you, what’s important to you, and what gives your life purpose. You can find out more in our blog How to be your authentic self, so you can lose weight. 

Turn your mess into your message

Many people who experience trauma end up using this experience for the greater good. For example, 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame who was groomed and sexually abused by her school teacher has used this experience to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Other people who are diagnosed with serious illnesses use their experience to raise awareness of their disease or raise money for research.

This isn’t to say that you need to share your traumatic history with the rest of the country or the world, but ask yourself if you can use what you went through to help someone else. Even helping a small group of people or just one person can be fulfilling. Assigning meaning to a traumatic event not only assists with the healing process but may also help you find your purpose. You can read more about trauma in our blog How trauma affects weight loss.

Build your self-worth

You also need to build your self-worth. Believing that you are worthy and are here for a reason will give you the confidence to find your purpose. Too many people play small because they don’t believe they are important enough to have a purpose or make a positive contribution to society. But when you recognise your gifts and talents and believe you have something of worth to share with the world, you’ll be ready to seek and embrace your life’s purpose. Our blog How to build your self-worth so you can lose weight for goodwill show you how to do this.

Living a life of purpose and meaning isn’t reserved for special people or spiritually awakened people. It’s something that everyone can do. You just need to take action.

References

Kobau, R, Sniezek, J, Zack, M M, Lucas, RE, Burns, A. Well‐Being Assessment: An Evaluation of Well‐Being Scales for Public Health and Population Estimates of Well‐Being among US Adults. Applied Psychology: 2010: 2: 272-297. doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01035.x

Steptoe A, Deaton A, Stone AA. Subjective wellbeing, health, and ageing. Lancet. 2015;385(9968):640–648. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61489-0

Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2018;21(2):139–147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063

Patrick L. Hill, Nicholas A. Turiano, Daniel K. Mroczek, Anthony L. Burrow, The value of a purposeful life: Sense of purpose predicts greater income and net worth, Journal of Research in Personality, Vol 65, 2016, 38-42,

ISSN 0092-6566, doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2016.07.003.

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