I think most of us have at least contemplated the question, “what is my life purpose?” And I think most of us feel completely clueless when we think about what in the world our life purpose could be! It seems like a really complicated question that must have a solemn and lofty answer.
But what I’ve found in all my spiritual studies – and I’ve studied many spiritual traditions – is a very simple common thread. The common thread is joy. Whenever we’re feeling true joy, we can be sure we’ve stumbled on our purpose.
Here are just a few of the quotes I’ve found on the connection between life purpose and joy:
- Happiness is your real nature. – Ramana Maharshi
- You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy. – Psalm 16:11
- To miss the joy is to miss all. – William James
- Joy is a compass. – Robert Holden
- The purpose of your life is joy. – Abraham-Hicks
- Happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive. -Mary Oliver
If you’re still seriously doubting that joy has any important connection to purpose, try this:
Think of the teacher (from any of your school days, kindergarten through college and beyond) who most seemed like they were showing up for the paycheck. Also think of the teacher who most seemed to truly love their job. Which teacher inspired a love of learning in you? Which teacher made you look forward to class? Which teacher made a real and lasting impact on your life? Which teacher do you still think of with gratitude?
I still have strong memories of my favorite teacher from elementary school. She clearly loved kids and had a huge passion for teaching. Our classroom was always filled with fun and wonder: we danced and sang to music, we performed plays, we created cool art projects and designed our own illustrated storybooks. She gave me a sense of confidence and helped me find joy in learning. Clearly, she found joy and purpose in her work. And through that joy, I was uplifted and inspired.
Also think about this:
The musicians, artists, and athletes you most admire almost definitely find a lot of joy in their work.
THIS EASY 5-STEP ACTIVITY WILL HELP YOU DISCOVER YOUR LIFE PURPOSE
I’ve created a very simple Activity Sheet and exercise to help you discover your own unique life purpose.
It’s really helpful to take the physical action of printing the Activity Sheet below and filling it out. Or at least save the pdf and use the markup tool to type the answers.
If we don’t take physical action to move in a new direction, we stay stagnant and nothing changes. So please resist the urge to just skim over the sheet. It’s not enough to just think about the words for a few seconds. Instead, take a few minutes to fill out the Activity Sheet now while you’re thinking about it:
STEP I: BRAINSTORM THINGS THAT BRING YOU TRUE JOY
For step 1, fill out the first page of the Activity Sheet. Take three very slow, deep breaths. Let your body completely relax and your mind go blank.
Then read the prompt and fill in the first line with the first thing that comes to your mind:
“One thing that brings me real joy is __________”
Then repeat this process until you’ve filled in all twelve lines of the first page.
Remember, this is a brainstorming activity. So allow yourself the freedom to just write everything that comes to mind without any judgment whatsoever. Anything goes.
In case you’re having trouble getting started, here are some examples from my own list to help inspire you:
Try places you love, my examples include:
- Sitting on a quiet beach
- Being near the mountains
- Walking on quiet, peaceful nature trails
- Going to a beautiful park or garden
- Being in wide open, natural settings
Also think of activities you love to do with others, my examples include:
- Eating at a nice restaurant with my husband
- Playing games with my son
- Laughing with my friends
- Cuddling with my dog
- Taking meditation and yoga classes
As well as activities you like to do alone, for example:
- Shooting and editing photos
- Dancing to uplifting music
Make it your goal to list a minimum of 12 things. If you’re on a roll and can think of more things, just flip the sheet over and keep going.
After you’ve finished brainstorming, look again at all the items you’ve listed. Ask yourself if each brings you a sense of deep appreciation and real fulfillment. Eliminate items that only numb your difficult emotions or help you escape from the stress in your life. Keep just those things that spark a sense of connection, peace, and happiness. You’ve now found your Joy Items.
STEP 2: LOOK OVER YOUR LIST AND CONSIDER WHAT JOY ITEMS FROM THE LIST ARE INCLUDED IN YOUR TYPICAL WORKDAY
For step 2, turn to the second page of the Activity Sheet and follow the prompt. Fill in the blank space with any of your Joy Items that are often included in your job/work/career.
You’ll quickly discover if your current career/livelihood is aligned with your path to joy.
Here’s an example:
My first job out of grad school involved sitting at a small cubicle in a high-rise building, working with numbers and spreadsheets. Meanwhile, my Joy Items include reading, writing, and being in peaceful natural settings. That job was so far from my Joy Items that, needless to say, I was pretty miserable and had a hard time dragging myself out of bed each morning.
STEP 3: LOOK OVER YOUR LIST AND CONSIDER WHAT JOY ITEMS ARE INCLUDED DURING YOUR TIME BEFORE AND AFTER WORK (AND ON WEEKENDS)
Repeat the same process as step 2, but now consider your time outside of work. Think about your mornings before work, your evenings after work, and weekends too.
Are you mostly racing through your morning at a breakneck pace, trying to check items of your to-do list, multitasking breakfast while driving to work? How much of your typical morning routine involves any of your Joy Items at all?
How about in the evening? Are you mostly scrolling through social media and watching Netflix, when a lot of your Joy Items have to do with getting outside in nature?
STEP 4: LOOK OVER YOUR LIST AND CONSIDER WHAT JOY ITEMS ARE INCLUDED WHERE YOU LIVE
Again repeat the process, this time considering the location you call home. Are you living in a place that’s aligned with your path to joy?
I used to live in a small apartment very close to a big city. But the first page of my sheet refers to being in wide open, peaceful surroundings with nature trails and beaches. I feel really content and at peace in my current home, which is in a rural area not far from the ocean.
STEP 5: TO FIND YOUR LIFE PURPOSE, ADD MORE OF YOUR ‘JOY ITEMS’ INTO EACH DAY
This activity is designed to help you discover your path to joy and give you a really clear indication of how far you’ve veered off of that path.
So the last step in this activity: slowly begin to design a life that revolves increasingly more and more around your Joy Items.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you find that hardly any (or none) of your Joy Items are included in your typical day-to-day routine.
Very few of us were taught that joy is important, or that joy leads us on the path of our purpose. Therefore, the vast majority of us are living without joy and thinking that’s just “the way life is.”
I’ve found that the best approach with this practice is to be really gentle with yourself. Very small baby steps are usually best. You don’t need to move out of your house next week!
You could begin by adding one Joy Item into your morning routine.
Then, maybe a week or two later, also add one Joy Item into your evening routine. If you’re working in an urban environment, and yet your Joy Items have to do with being in the mountains, you don’t have to start looking for new jobs tomorrow. You could begin by planning more hiking trips on the weekends.
If you continue to commit yourself to taking small baby steps to add more joy into your life, you’ll start to see dramatic change over the course of several months. Slowly, you’ll start to feel like you’ve finally found your life purpose!