Many of us will experience a lack of purpose at some point in our lives. And if you’re lucky enough to have a loving family, successful career, and supportive friends, you might wonder why that doesn’t feel like enough – or why something feels like it’s missing.
When you lack meaning and purpose, it can feel like you’re walking numbly through life, or that you’re rudderless, floating aimlessly without direction. But finding meaning and purpose can tether you to something greater; it can give you ambition, intention, passion, and energy. Plus, the good news is that if you aren’t sure what your purpose is, it’s never too late to find out.
With this in mind, here are five ideas to help you find meaning and purpose in your life.
Meaning and purpose are strongly linked to the idea of connection – and this is why reading can be one of the easiest and most accessible ways to find meaning in your life.
At its core, reading is about connection. Reading the words of people we’ll never know tethers us to them, if only briefly. It also connects us to different times and places – often ones that are entirely alien to us.
Studies show that people who read the Bible or other religious books tend to have a greater sense of purpose than people who don’t. But it isn’t necessarily the religious aspect that creates this feeling. Research suggests that people who read secular work, like fiction and poetry, are also continually shown to have a stronger sense of purpose.
Think of some of the great literary characters in history. From Atticus Finch fighting racial injustice in To Kill A Mockingbird to Frodo Baggins journeying to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings – what so many characters share is an unshakeable sense of purpose. The more we see purpose in the lives of other people (fictional or otherwise) the more we’re likely to see it in ourselves.
Some of the most inspirational and driven people in the world credit reading for giving them purpose. So if you’re feeling like your life lacks meaning, then something as simple as picking up a book can make a difference and help you identify what matters in your life.
If you want some reading inspiration, we hope something might catch your eye in our articles; 27 must-read books and 15 inspiring self-development books. You might also want to join one of the various book clubs over on Rest Less Events.
2. Fight for something
When you think about injustice, most of us can pinpoint some causes that bother us more than others.
Perhaps it’s cruelty to children or the struggles of people living through war and famine. It might be issues like racism or sexism, animal rights or issues about sustainability. Or maybe it’s that your own experiences, or those of your loved ones, have led you to be passionate about certain issues – for example, helping people deal with addiction or mental health problems.
Most of us have causes we care about deeply, and fighting for something bigger than ourselves can be an incredibly rewarding way to find purpose and meaning. So, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what upsets and angers you most, then trying to identify different ways you can help rectify the issue.
There are thousands of organisations and causes out there that desperately need help – and often, when you’re fighting for what you perceive to be a greater good, you can identify new ways to make a difference that are actually personal to you.
Donating your time and money to help others is a great way to find purpose. But finding a way to repurpose your skills, interests, and experience to bring about positive change can be even more effective.
If you’re a skilled writer, you could write articles to raise awareness about an issue you’re passionate about. If you enjoy public speaking, you could use your skills to educate people – for example, by visiting schools and talking to children about what you find important. Or, if you’re passionate about music, you could look into how music can be used as therapy.
If you’re not quite sure what ‘your’ cause is or how you can make a difference, it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions…
- What do I love doing?
- What comes easily to me?
- What do I care about?
- If I could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
If you still feel unsure or have several causes you feel deeply passionate about, you might benefit from taking a values survey. These can help you identify the issue or cause that you’re truly most passionate about.
3. Surround yourself with people who inspire you
If you’re experiencing a lack of meaning and/or purpose in your life, it can also be helpful to think about the people you surround yourself with.
Try not to focus on people you ‘have’ to see – such as colleagues and immediate family members. But those who you choose to spend time with. If the people around you are negative, it’s easy to get weighed down – and if these people aren’t interested in making positive change, it can be difficult to feel inspired.
Of course, you don’t have to cut these people out of your life altogether to find meaning and purpose. But it can help to try to spend time with people who inspire and encourage you to make a difference.
You might also find it useful to read about inspirational people, though sometimes this can also feel a little intimidating. If you read about a civil rights leader who awoke a generation, for example, you might feel motivated in some ways and daunted in others – like you’ll never be able to make such a difference, no matter how hard you try.
But often the small things we do have a huge impact, and if there are people in your life who motivate and uplift you, make an effort to spend more time with them. If you have a friend who goes to social justice talks or protests, why not consider going along to the next one? And if you have a friend who volunteers at the local soup kitchen, perhaps you could ask to join them.
If you don’t have people in your life who inspire you in this way, don’t worry. Today, there are so many different ways we can meet new people, forge meaningful connections, and get inspired – from joining Facebook groups and community hubs to setting up online support groups.
4. Listen to others
Many of us are our own worst critics. We find it easy to see things like talent, passion, and intelligence in other people; but, unfortunately, we often don’t see ourselves so clearly.
Therefore, it can be hugely beneficial to ask people for their feedback and thoughts – to find out what they appreciate about you, what they think you’re good at, and what makes you special.
When you hear and evaluate what other people appreciate about you, it can give you an idea of your values and skills, which can be instrumental in helping you to pursue a meaningful life.
For example, if someone tells you that you’re unusually empathic or they find it easy to talk openly to you, you may realise that you can use this trait to help others – perhaps by retraining as a counsellor or volunteering on helplines.
Remember that it’s never too late to make a career change. If someone says they believe you’re nurturing, patient, or able to connect with teenagers in a way that others aren’t, it can reinforce some of the values and passions that already exist inside you that you just haven’t fully picked up on yet.
It can be strangely difficult to recognise the things you care most about or what you’re naturally best at, simply because they’re so ingrained in us. So, ask people around you for insight and feedback and, most importantly, listen to them.
Though, don’t forget to listen to yourself too. When you think about a passion or a cause, what’s your gut telling you? Do you really want to volunteer for a particular charity or are you only doing it because you think it’s the proper thing to do? Do you really want to pursue that new hobby or are you doing it because you can’t think of anything else?
Try not to do anything for the sake of it, and don’t do anything you feel uncomfortable with. When you find your purpose, it’ll feel right. So listen to your intuition – because only you know what’s best for you.
5. Help other people
It’s widely accepted that certain emotions and behaviours help boost our wellbeing, and they can also have a powerful effect on our sense of purpose. Two of these are generosity and selflessness.
As a result, volunteering, helping others, and finding a way to give back are strongly associated with having a more meaningful, purposeful life.
There are many ways you can help other people. You can donate money to a cause you care about, give your time by volunteering for a charity, or help out people around you directly.
For example, why not visit an elderly neighbour to provide company or offer to do the shop for a friend who’s unwell? Whether you decide to help others every day or once a week, the simple act of helping other people and being kind can go a long way to making you feel like your life has purpose.
It’s also worth mentioning that once you start working to help others, you’re likely to meet new people who’ll further inspire you. Volunteering at a homeless shelter once a week, for example, can put you in contact with people who dedicate their lives to those less fortunate than them. Often, it’s these experiences that have the most profound effect on us.
There’s no guarantee that volunteering will lead to a lightbulb moment where you suddenly realise what your purpose is. However, there are many different ways you can help others and give back, and once you find the ‘right’ way to do that, it should feel as though it makes sense. Plus, the act of helping is invigorating and not exhausting.
If you want to find out how you can help others, check out our article; 17 meaningful ways to help others and give back to your community.
No matter how hard we search, finding purpose and meaning in our lives isn’t usually something that happens quickly. It can take months, years, or even a lifetime – but there are some who say it’s the search that is the most meaningful of all.
You might find that what inspires and drives you changes over time. This is all part and parcel of our natural evolution as people, and it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on anything.
If you find an act, hobby, job, or cause that gives you purpose, it doesn’t matter what it is – all that matters is that you get something out of it.
If you choose to pursue a new passion or cause, try to take some time to reflect on it as you go along. Ask yourself if the new road you’re on feels like the right direction. If it isn’t, it’s fine to change course.
For more guidance, you might like to read our article; 8 powerful questions to ask yourself when you arrive at a crossroads in life.
Have you struggled to find meaning and purpose in your life recently? Or have you found something that’s helped give you direction? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.