Finding purpose in life involves more than just self-reflection. Bronk says it’s also about trying new things and seeing how those activities can help you use your skills to learn self-efficacy. Volunteering in a community organization focused on something you care about is a great way to gain experience and do well at the same time.
Working with an organization that serves others can connect you with people who share your passions and inspire you. In fact, it’s easier to find and maintain a purpose in life with the support of others – because a volunteer network can show you opportunities and include them in a community that shares your cause. Volunteering has the added benefit of improving our health and longevity for some people.
However, not all voluntary activities lead to more meaning. “Sometimes volunteering can be deadening,” warns Anne Colby, a researcher at Stanford University. “It has to be winning. You need to feel like you’re achieving something.” When you find something that’s a good fit for you and volunteering feels “right” for you – then that volunteering isn’t exhausting, it’s invigorating.
Imagine Your Best Possible Self
This exercise is particularly useful in conjunction with the magic wand exercise above. So the youngsters were asked to imagine themselves at the age of 40 and whether everything would have gone as well as it could have in their lives. Then they answered questions like:
- What will you do (in 40 years)?
- What is important to you?
- What is really important to you and why?
The why part is especially important because purposes usually stem from our reasons for caring, Bronk says.
Of course, those of us who are a little older may still find these questions valuable. According to Bronk, however, older people would rather think back than look ahead. She suggests that we think about what we’ve always wanted to do but maybe couldn’t due to other commitments (like raising children or a career). Identifying what you really want for yourself and the world can help you achieve it. So focus your attention on the people and experiences that can help you get there.
Cultivate Positive Emotions like Gratitude and Awe
To find purpose in life purpose, cultivating positive emotions like awe and gratitude helps. That’s because each of these emotions is associated with well-being, caring for others, and finding meaning in life. It all helps us focus on how we can contribute to the world and experience self-efficacy.
In her study of adolescents, Bronk found that practicing gratitude was particularly helpful in alignment. Reflecting on the blessings of their lives often led young people from this heightened awareness to want to give back to the community in ways that were important and meaningful to them.
There are many ways to cultivate reverence and gratitude. Awe can be inspired by learning to see the beauty of nature, or by remembering an inspirational moment. Gratitude can be practiced by keeping a gratitude journal or writing a thank you letter to someone who has helped you in life. Regardless of what tools you use, fostering gratitude and reverence has the added benefit of being good for your emotional well-being. And that in turn gives you the energy and motivation you need to achieve your meaningful goals.
Look to the people you admire as a guide
Sometimes the people we admire most in life give us a clue as to how we want to contribute to a better world. Reading about the work of civil rights activists or climate activists can give us inspiration that can serve as motivation to strive for the greater good.
Sometimes, however, looking at these standout examples can be too intimidating, says Bronk. In this case, you can search for people around you. Perhaps you have a friend who volunteers to collect food for the homeless, or a colleague whose work inspires you to advance social justice.
You don’t need fame to fulfill your purpose in life. All you have to do is look at your inner compass – and take small steps in the direction that means the most to you.
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