Finding your purpose in life

It isn’t unusual for a coach to be approached by a prospective client who explains, in not so many words, that they feel they are lacking a sense of purpose in their life.  So, being able to work with this is important.

Having a sense of purpose in life significantly benefits mental and physical health, and fosters overall well-being. It acts as a key component not only in achieving personal goals but also in contributing meaningfully to society.

One of the primary benefits of having a purpose is its positive impact on mental health. Research consistently shows that individuals with a clear sense of purpose experience lower levels of stress and anxiety (Kashdan & McKnight, 2009). This effect occurs because a strong purpose provides a buffer against the difficulties of life, offering a sense of stability and direction during times of change and uncertainty (McKnight & Kashdan, 2009). Furthermore, having purposeful goals helps maintain psychological well-being by promoting a sense of progress and achievement, which boosts self-esteem and happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2001).

Purpose also deeply influences physical health. Studies have found that individuals with a high sense of purpose tend to have a reduced risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions (Kim, Strecher, & Ryff, 2014). The proposed mechanism behind this is that a strong life purpose can lead to better management of physical health, more robust immune function, and lower levels of inflammation (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012). Additionally, a sense of purpose has been associated with longer lifespan. A study spanning 14 years found that individuals who reported a strong sense of purpose were less likely to die during the study period, from any cause, compared to those with less purpose in their lives (Hill & Turiano, 2014).

On a societal level, having a purpose drives people to engage in activities that contribute positively to the community. This engagement can take many forms, from volunteering and mentoring to leading initiatives that address local or global issues. Community involvement not only helps in addressing these issues but also reinforces the individual’s sense of purpose by connecting personal actions with broader social benefits (Stukas, Snyder, & Clary, 1999). This reciprocal relationship enhances social networks, promotes shared values, and improves overall community well-being.

Moreover, in the workplace, individuals with a strong sense of purpose often exhibit greater job satisfaction, are more productive, and are less likely to experience burnout (Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, & McKee, 2007). Employers benefit from cultivating environments where employees can find and develop their sense of purpose, leading to a more committed and effective workforce.

In education, a clear purpose can enhance academic motivation and achievement. Students with a strong sense of what they wish to accomplish in life are more likely to value their education and persist through challenges, leading to higher rates of graduation and continued educational pursuits (Yeager & Bundick, 2009).

You might be interested in the Finding Your Purpose Questionnaire developed by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (


Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193-203.

Boehm, J. K., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The heart’s content: The association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin, 138(4), 655-691.

Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1482-1486.

Kashdan, T. B., & McKnight, P. E. (2009). Origins of purpose in life: Refining our understanding of a life well lived. Psychological Topics, 18(2), 303-316.

Kim, E. S., Strecher, V. J., & Ryff, C. D. (2014). Purpose in life and use of preventive health care services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(46), 16331-16336.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others? The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56(3), 239-249.

McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). The importance of functional impairment to mental health outcomes: A case for reassessing our goals in depression treatment research. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(3), 243-259.

Stukas, A. A., Snyder, M., & Clary, E. G. (1999). The effects of “mandatory volunteerism” on intentions to volunteer. Psychological Science, 10(1), 59-64.

Yeager, D. S., & Bundick, M. J. (2009). The role of purposeful work goals in promoting meaning in life and in schoolwork during adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(4), 423-452.

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