I can remember the feelings so vividly—the emptiness, the yearning, the confusion, the lacking, and the depression. They all merged together, and they always seemed to present themselves at the worst possible times.
The simplest things, like getting out of bed in the morning, felt so heavy. The best joys in life, like being with family and creating new connections, felt unsatisfying. Things were hard and almost unbearable.
I didn’t understand what was creating these feelings, or what I needed to do to change them.
It sounds like such a cliché to say that one day something happened that changed my life forever, but it did: Everything transformed for me when I decided to focus on creating purpose in my life.
Life is a whole different experience when you understand what guides you.
Let me shift gears with a question: Why did you come to Tiny Buddha today?
If I asked Sigmund Freud why we do the things we do, he’d say that our behavior is motivated by sex and aggression. I believe that on a completely primal level, he’s right.
In the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul MacLean invented the Triune Brain Model which says you have three parts to your brain:
The reptilian (instinctual) part
The mammalian (emotional) part
The primate (thinking) part
The reptilian and mammalian parts of your brain are very basic in nature. The reptilian handles things like aggression and territory. The mammalian handles things like food and sex. So far we’re right on track with Freud’s theory.
But now we come to the third—thinking—primate part of your brain. This is the part that’s focused on things like perception, planning, and handling complex concepts. This is the part of your brain that knows deep, deep down, you need meaning in your life!
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian existential psychologist, created a school of thought called logotherapy. Unlike Freud, who said our main motives are sex and aggression, Frankl surmised that our dominant driving force is to find meaning in life.
You see, Frankl experienced something that Freud never had. In the 1940s, Frankl was held prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. Imagine this: You, your family, friends, and all your neighbors are all cornered, captured, and transported to mass murdering sites where you’re dehumanized and likely extinguished.
Frankl lived that reality. He felt the horror of losing everything only to be tortured and terrorized. With all the agony and brutality, what kept Frankl from giving up his relentless fight for his life?
It was purpose! He found meaning in his struggle, and that’s what gave him the power to push forward through unimaginable pain.
After escaping the concentration camps, Frankl published a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, which explores his experiences and includes an overview of logotherapy. A quote by Nietzsche nicely sums up his philosophy on how people were able to survive the camps, without losing the will to live:
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
That is the power of purpose. Torture, brutality, unimaginable inhumanity—purpose supersedes it all. Purpose is what gives us the strength to carry on, if not through dire conditions, then through difficult changes, transitions, relationships, and activities.
As Frankl wrote:
“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
But be careful of getting stuck in suffering mode and mistaking it for nobility.” Frankl also wrote, “Suffering unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”
Do you think it’s time you make some life altering decisions to stop any suffering and find a more meaningful life?
The Different Types of Purposes
Fortunately for us, we’re in much better situations than Frankl was, meaning we’re in a different boat with finding purpose. When living a practical life of purpose, we can see the picture on both a “micro” level and a “macro” level.
Your micro level purpose is to know your values, and then, be in integrity with them. When you know what you stand for, and do what you believe in, your confidence and sense of self-worth will be sky-high, regardless of how much the situation sucks.
But that’s only part of living on purpose.
Your macro level purpose is something different. It’s the big picture. It’s your search for meaning. It’s your ultimate goal. It’s waking up in the morning knowing you’re on the right path, regardless of what other people say.
The Missing Piece to the Purpose Puzzle
Your purpose is about giving, not getting.
We all want to better ourselves and our lives, but purpose—like success and happiness—is counterintuitive. Here’s what Viktor Frankl said about service:
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
You want love from people? Love people! You want more money? Help people make money! You want more joy in life? Give joy to people! Sounds so simple, right?
In fact, I’m gonna suggest that the more we can give, while enjoying the process, the more we’re going to love our lives.
Here’s where it all comes together.
In Scott’s post, he wrote, “The intersection of your true values and super powers, backed with relentless passion, is where the magic happens.”
Well I believe, when you find where those things intersect, and then use that for service to others, you’ll find the answers to the two big questions, and consequently, know your purpose.
The equation looks like this:
Your Values + Strengths + Passions + Service = Your Purpose
Don’t let all the different variables discourage you. Once you dedicate some time for introspection and reflection of those variables, you’ll rapidly start to realize the direction you need to move in.
Start by creating three lists:
The key is to figure out how you can combine your passions and strengths in service to a cause, person, community, or organization other than yourself. Do that and your values will fall into place.
The Actual, Practical Part of Living on Purpose
In her groundbreaking book, The How of Happiness, Positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that only 10 percent of happiness comes from extrinsic incentives like money, fame, and status.
If that’s the case, would you be willing to sacrifice some of the money you’re making in order to do passionate work that’s more fulfilling?
If so, here’s the magic financial formula that you’ll need to know:
Your income must be greater than your expenses!
That’s it—the whole secret. If you’re able to start chopping away at your expenses by eliminating non-essential items (like your car, cable TV, eating out, and frivolous shopping), then you’ll create an absurd amount of choices and opportunities in your life.
I know it sounds like a massive lifestyle change to get rid of these things, but a massive lifestyle change may be exactly what you need in order to find and live your purpose.
We’ve only got one life to live—and none of us will live forever.
Don’t think that you’re being heroic by “toughing it out” and doing things that don’t fulfill you. As Frankl wrote, suffering when not necessary is masochistic, not heroic!
This journey called life will be over before you realize it. Why spend another second living a life that isn’t personally meaningful to you?