Those who felt their life to be meaningful were less depressed and felt greater satisfaction with their lives.-Stager et al 2006
Simon Sinek taught us to start with why. In his groundbreaking TED talk he explained that people with a purpose love going to work and they’re more productive and creative. They go home happier and have stronger relationships. They treat their colleagues, clients, and customers better too. Inspired employees make for stronger companies. And if that isn’t enough, purposelessness, the opposite of living with purpose, is a risk factor for both depression and poor relationships. It’s obvious that having a sense of purpose and meaning underlying day to day actions is good for you. This doesn’t help at all if you don’t have a clue what yours is!
We can get so caught up in looking for our why that sometimes we cannot see what’s right in front of us.
How you live your life including your choice of activities, your values, and your passions are all deeply connected to your bigger purpose. Purpose doesn’t have to be lofty or altruistic (although it might be). Knowing what feels important to you can be useful in clarifying. You can begin by looking for your smaller purpose, your intention behind every action.
When you are driving to work think of your intention- to get there safely and on time.
When eating your lunch what’s your intention- to fuel your body with healthy foods.
When you yelled at your partner what was your intention- you wanted them to know that you felt frustrated. (this may not have been the strongest method but at least you can identify what you were going for, right?)
When you binge-watched Santa Clarita Diet for 4 episodes what was your intention- okay, maybe sometimes there isn’t a strong intention behind every action but noting that is progress in and of itself.
Over time, as you check-in regularly on your intention you will become more familiar with how and why you make choices. This is an exercise in learning about YOU. The successful outcome will have you knowing more about yourself.
Next, see if there are areas of your life where purpose has more clarity. Sometimes there is clarity in some areas but not others. Try thinking of your purpose as:
- a consumer- how do like to spend (or save) your money?
- a traveler- do you enjoy new places or prefer familiar ones?
- when exercising- do you like the gym, yoga, or running?
- when eating- do you love long lingering meals or grab and go?
- for entertainment- do you like movies or live theater?
- when reading- do you like magazines, novels, or biographies?
Your purpose doesn’t lie in these answers but as you practice you may notice that purpose is clear about how you parent but not how you spend leisure time.You know you enjoy volunteering but you don’t love the job that pays the bills.
I have a little questionnaire I use with clients who want to get clearer on their purpose. If you want a copy, I’m happy to send you a download. Email me- firstname.lastname@example.org with “Purpose Worksheet” in the subject line and I’ll send one your way.
To answer the question in the title, of course you can be happy without a clear purpose but science and history both show that purpose increases happiness.
If you get clearer, I’d love to hear your purpose. I’m posting mine in the happiness trajectory facebook group. Feel free to join! Remember, purpose is fluid, it changes as you change. Purpose is also one of seven happiness boosting habits- stay tuned for the other six.
Every day we are faced with choice; what to wear, what to eat, who to lunch with, when to work out. We have practiced making choices our entire lives. Nothing else we do requires such constant effort with such varying results. Sometimes choices are simple, sometimes they aren’t. What is the difference and how can you make every decision with as much ease as possible?
Tools for making any Decisions
– Your choice must fit in with your most positive emotions and avoid negative ones.
EGO – Your decision must match who you are as a person.
HEAD – Your decision must accord with your long-term goals.
SURROUNDINGS – Your decision must be compatible with the situation you find yourself in.
When 1 or more of the tools are at odds, then what?
Every gut instinct comes with a physical sensation. Our challenge is correctly interpreting the sensation; knowing whether that butterfly in your stomach is telling you to back off from something truly scary or telling you that something exciting is about to happen.
Good decisions feel expansive and optimistic. They’re not based in fear, anger, or greed.
Successful choicemaking depends much more on who you are than what you do so if your decision is compromising who you are it’s ultimately not going to be the right choice. This can become a challenge is when someone else is involved.
What can you do when your decision involves others whose opinion is different or even opposing?
And when that difference comes down to a core belief belief about love self-worth safety and feeling a whole conflict resolution can become difficult.
If one partner is prioritizing money where another is prioritizing lifestyle or one person needs adventure where another prefers stability, who gets their way?
Listen, list make, leave it
Have a conversation when you have plenty of time in a place that is free of distractions.
- Each partner takes a turn to explain why their choice is best for themselves. (E.g. I want to live in the suburbs because we can have a bigger house for less money and the schools are better.)
- Each partner takes a turn to explain why they think their choice is best for their partner. (E.g. Our mortgage would be smaller so you could work less overtime and we would be in the same place financially. You wOuld see the kids more)
- Each partner suggests a compromise. (We could live in a townhouse close to your office and get rid of one car or we could move midway between your work and the suburbs)
Make a pro and con list together. Tally up your pluses and minuses.
The rule- things can only make the list that you both agree on.
Example- Choosing between public school and private school.
Private School Pros
small class size
cutting edge facility
strong preparation for college
Private School Cons
not in our neighborhood
Things That Get Left Off The List
feels elitist (only to one partner)
better sports teams (debatable by one partner)
better University Counselling (debatable by one partner)
If you have the luxury of time, let your emotions settle for a few days. Allowing emotions to settle can help you to discuss your options with less of an emotional charge.
If after all the debate, you have to agree to disagree, setting up a system where one partner gets their way this time but that means the other partner automatically gets their way the next time can be an option.
I choose to live in the country over the city but you get to choose our house.
A thought from Brene Brown…
When emotions flare, Brene advises her readers to ask what is the story I am telling myself.
Write down what you imagine will happen if you don’t get your way. Quite often this can help to uncover fear that is lurking below our rational thinking and hijacking our ability to see the other person’s perspective.
If you just can’t choose?
Flip a coin. At the moment right before it lands, you will wish for an outcome- that’s what you truly want- so go for it!
I’d love to hear what choices you find most challenging. Comment below, email me or weigh in on my Facebook page.