The Idea of Purpose

I don't know how closely you pay attention to my goals lists, but last month and this I played around with the idea of 'purpose.' I've been working steadily at the Blue Zone Living Challenge, and they highlight what they they dubbed 'the Power 9.' These are the 9 things that the world's longest living, healthiest, and happiest populations have in common, including the obvious plant-based diet. So these are the areas I focus on when I'm picking my goals. There's two tests on the website that give you a happiness score and a longevity score, and I'm trying to increase both of mine by the end of the year.

But I didn't totally grasp the idea of 'purpose' when I was first reading through the list. It's defined as "The Okinawans call it 'Ikigai' and the Nicoyans call it 'plan de vida;' for both it translates to 'why I wake up in the morning.' Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy." Which is perfectly logical, of course, but when you actually try to define it for yourself, it's a bit trickier. And then I realized that I also had 'define and then live by my own personal definition of success' on my 101 in 1001 list and that's absolutely the same thing. So I knew it was a goal I needed to give some real thought to. 

Luckily, the website has a test for this too. (I like how it's split into the three sections of outer life, inner life, and spiritual life, because they're equally important. And my spiritual life score was pretty low.) It's interesting to read through that list and see what the Blue Zones recommend as priorities and the things that give you a sense of purpose, because it's very, very different from what society often tells us.

I think too many of us try to be successful by other people's standards and as a result, we have absolutely no idea what our own priorities are. So we exist on auto-pilot, living from an endless to do list, on the brink of burnout, and deeply unhappy. When we can finally prioritize the things that actually matter most to us, life becomes so much more meaningful and enjoyable. 

So priorities and purpose go hand in hand. How can you know how you want to live and why you wake up in the morning if you don't define your priorities? We're all different and prioritize different things - good health, family time, career advancement and fulfillment, creative endeavors, etc - but if you don't know your own guidelines to help decide how to spend your day, you'll spend it by someone else's. It's why we so often feel that sense of overwhelm, because we're placing equal importance on all the things that try to take our time and attention.

Setting out my priorities helped dictate how much time I want to spend on different things because I have a guide as to what's actually valuable, which in turn allows me to be present in everything I'm doing, instead of feeling like I need to rush to the next task. I'm overall just so much more intentional with my time and energy, and that alone makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose. And that's what Richard Leider defined life purpose as anyway, "an intention to live a certain way."

And I feel confident on that front, that I have my priorities in order and I intend to live a certain way, with guidelines in place to determine how I spend my days. Things that, if I get done in a day, I feel successful. But still, my life purpose wasn't something I could put into words, or sum up in a couple of sentences. So I did sit down with that 'unlocking purpose' workbook to get some answers. As it turns out, I didn't need to - living purposefully is just living life by doing the things I feel drawn to. Check!

But I still recommend doing the workbook if you need direction. It was nice to sit down and write out my gifts, talents, passions, and values. Even if I can't sum all that up in one sentence, I know what it means for me.

Do you have a definition for your sense of purpose?

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