In my book, The Wellness Puzzle, the first of seven pieces, and the one I believe foundational to optimal wellbeing and a life of joyful longevity, is finding and living your purpose. The challenge for many people is that this is far too ethereal a concept. What does it mean, what does it look like, how should it feel and, most importantly, how do I find it? These are questions often asked when I talk about it. So, this week, I want to simplify purpose and help you get started in finding it, if you haven’t already. If I told you that your purpose had a face, would that help?
You may be wondering what purpose has to do with your health and happiness. The answer to that is… everything. It’s the one thing that underpins; what you focus on, the way you feel, the choices you make, the routines you develop and ultimately, the life you live. We see the evidence of lack of purpose all around the world, in the form of sickness, depression, dissatisfaction, addiction and even suicide. On the other hand, those with meaning in life are happier, more productive, healthier and more abundant.
The mistake many people make is believing purpose has something to do with the achievement of success, accumulation of material gain or admiration from others. This pursuit has left many people unhappy, unfulfilled, depressed, addicted or dead. In fact, in my life, I spent much of my time chasing things that I thought would lead to happiness and purpose, but only led to emptiness, addiction and longing.
In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl talks with confronting rawness and openness about his horrendous experiences in German concentration camps back in the second world war. An Austrian Psychologist, Frankl, observed with great interest to see what the difference was between those who survived and those who gave up the fight, under unimaginable conditions. They were starved, frost-bitten, beaten, abused and humiliated. Every possible pleasure and comfort was stripped from them and they were brutalised; physically, mentally and emotionally. He noticed that it was those who had found some meaning in their life – a purpose to live – were the ones who were able to endure the non-relenting agony of concentration camp life.
Viktor found himself many times questioning his desire to keep living and tolerating the relentless torture. Recently married that the time, it was the thought of his wife, the deep love he had for her and the yearning to see her again that was his meaning of his life at that time. Tragically and unbeknownst to him, his wife had been killed in another concentration camp and so he never saw her again. However, it was that deep seeded love for her that drove him to endure the most horrendous conditions any human could imagine. It was this same reason – a strong love for another and desire to be with them – that the other survivors were able to make it through the nightmare. Their purpose had a face.
As I think about the penny-drop moment for me when I identified my purpose in life, it was a few weeks after the publication of my first book. Until that time, being an author was a cool thing, good for my ego and a great way to increase my credibility, but it wasn’t any more than that, until I received an email that included the following statements; “Your book has had a profound effect on my life,” and, “It has changed my life,” and, “I push your book to everyone who asks how I did it. Thank you.”
As I finished reading this email and wiped the tears of joy, satisfaction and fulfillment from my eyes, I was a goner! I was hooked. I knew my purpose. It was that fast. All of the credibility I got, recognition I received and money I made, was not even close to the joy I felt reading that email, knowing the impact I made on and in that man’s life. A man, by the way, I had never met or will probably never meet. The feeling welled up inside of me, that I had the power to impact lives and make a difference, and every day since that moment in 2004, I have bounced out of bed full of joy, full of anticipation and full of purpose to make the day one that counts and impacts more lives. It was always about other people. My purpose has faces, many faces.
So, as you start on your journey to find the purpose in your life and the reason you will bounce out of bed and love you every day, think about the face or faces that you would do anything for. That’s the place to begin the journey. It doesn’t have to be a global purpose to change the world like, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela or Fred Hollows had, it may just be your family. Find the face or faces that will get you excited, determined, focused and joyful, and always remember, purpose has a face.