Note: Life is worth it. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call a suicide hotline and ask for help. Here is a list of the suicidal hotlines around the world.
Do you ever feel like life is pointless?
You wake up and have breakfast, then you go to school or work, do the same things you do every day, come home, go to sleep, then do it all again the next day.
You live the same day on repeat, waiting for the big bang moment to change your life.
You envision your future and think “What’s the point of life?”
Everyone spends their life striving, trying, struggling, and succeeding or failing, but in the end, nothing matters, right?
The life story of the farmer in a rural village and the millionaire in Silicon Valley both come to the same end.
How does anything you do make a difference?
You Are Here Now
You’ve deemed life pointless. You’ve thought it over, and you can come to no other conclusion.
Everybody around you is chasing a goal. You have goals, too—or at least you did before you came the realization that it didn’t matter whether you achieved them or not.
This is a pessimistic way of thinking, but you’re just stating the facts.
What if there was another way to look at life, though?
Albert Einstein said, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”
So, let’s try an exercise.
I see that you read over that sentence without doing it.
Now, really pinch yourself.
It hurt, didn’t it?
Your pain receptors sent signals to your brain to inform it that you got hurt.
You felt it. It was real. It wasn’t an illusion.
You are here now. You can feel pain and guilt and regret but also joy and curiosity and elation and enthusiasm.
Feeling happy is soul-lifting and feeling sad sucks, and when people try to make you feel better you experience love.
You undergo so many different experiences during your lifetime, each of which is real to you.
If Albert Einstein thinks life is an illusion, then who cares?
Change Your Why to Why Not
Why do any of this? Why head toward your goals? Why go through the possibility of failing and having to start over? Why strive to succeed?
Here’s a question for you: Why not?
You came up with these goals for a reason. You want the end-product. You want the results.
Aren’t you curious to see what comes after? Wouldn’t it be awe-inspiring to see what you can achieve? Imagine what you could become if you gave your heart and soul to your goal.
The Truth About Life Purposes
Life isn’t pointless. Now what?
What will you spend your not-pointless life on?
Did you think I was going to answer? I was asking you!
It’s your life. Why would I know what you should spend it on?
OK, I’ll help you out a little. I’ll tell you my story.
When I was 13 years old, I reckoned life pointless. Not in a depressing way, I just realized that there really was no end-goal for any of us. Being 13 with a lot of ambition lead me to create my own life purpose.
It wasn’t anything spectacular. I decided I would spend my life learning everything there was to learn. (I have since realized that that’s not possible.)
That purpose led me to accomplish many things. I studied Japanese and French. I taught myself to code. I learned morse code and a wide range of handcrafts. I took a bunch of courses on Coursera and edX.
Having that purpose gave me direction and kept me motivated.
A few years later, I read the quote:
“I am going to make everything around me beautiful – that will be my life.” ― Elsie de Wolfe
I loved that concept. I wanted that to be my life, too.
I added that as a life purpose and began a journey of spreading joy. I made sure that every encounter I had made a positive impact on those I met.
Here are the takeaways:
- No one is born with a life purpose; we each create our own.
- You can have as many life purposes as you can manage.
- Your life purpose can change.
Why Have A Life Purpose?
You don’t have to have a life purpose. You could live life day-by-day with no direction. What’s the fun in that?
People who have life purposes have:
- A reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease: elderly people with a sense of purpose in life can reduce their cognitive decline by 50 percent. (1)
- A reduced risk of strokes: having a purpose in life reduces the risk of strokes by 22% and makes you better able to recover cognitive function after a stroke. (2, 3)
- Better sleep: a strong life purpose makes you 16% less likely to develop sleep disturbances. This has additional bonuses as sleep problems are associated with many other health conditions such as heart attacks and high blood pressure. (4, 5)
- Lower mortality: One study showed that people with the highest sense of purpose have a 57% lower risk of mortality. (6)
- Higher life satisfaction: people with a high sense of purpose in life report higher life satisfaction even when their mood is low. (7)
With all those benefits, who wouldn’t want a life purpose?
Don’t just go with the flow. Swim against the tide in the direction of your dreams.
What’s Your Life Purpose?
The fact that life doesn’t have a fixed purpose is freeing.
You aren’t assigned a life purpose at birth which means you can grow and discover and create one for yourself.
Your purpose statement should be vague enough that it doesn’t dictate your life. It should be general enough that you can achieve it through many different routes.
My 13-year-old-self’s purpose was to learn. That left me with so many options. I could learn languages, skills, general knowledge, or anything else that piqued my interest.
Another life purpose may be to bring people joy. There are a thousand ways to do that. You could hand out money. You could spend time with the elderly. You could smile at strangers.
With a vague life purpose, you aren’t chained down. It’s a direction that gives you the freedom to pursue it any way you please.
Many people have this idea that life purposes are something magical—somewhat like love at first sight. In reality, they are more approachable and achievable.
When you find or create your life purpose, time won’t slow down, and trumpets won’t be heard. The discovery will be more subtle.
When working on your purpose, your chest will swell with satisfaction. You’ll aim toward your target with dedication. As Steve Jobs said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
No one but you can uncover your purpose. It’s time to dig down and find what you love. Here are some questions to help make the discovery.
1. Why Did You Choose Your Current Interests, Passions, And Decisions?
Chances are you already know what your purpose is. You just haven’t verbalized it yet.
Take a look at what you are doing now.
- What do you spend your time on?
- What are some recent life decisions you’ve made and why did you make them?
- Why did you choose that college major?
- Why were you drawn to your current career?
- What do you like about your favorite pastime?
Once you reflect on your life now, you’ll see a pattern. Your gut is guiding you somewhere. What decisions has it helped you make?
You might already be headed in a purposeful direction even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
Need some help in uncovering the pattern? Peruse the 101 Questions to Find Your Passion In Life Worksheet.
2. What Do You Want From Life?
This is a hard question. Isn’t that what we are all trying to figure out?
Deep down inside, we all want a good life. What that means differs from person to person.
A good life could be one in which you’re surrounded by people you love and who love you. A good life could be one in which you swim in a bath—no, make that an Olympic-sized swimming pool—of cash.
Picture different futures for yourself. If you could do and have anything and be anyone, what would your life look like? Think of what you can do to make that vision a reality.
3. What Did You Love Doing As A Child?
When we are children, we have the most exotic dreams.
You wanted to be an astronaut/singer/lawyer. The next day you wanted to the first architect to build a house on the moon. Maybe you were the ‘weird kid’ who spent their days in their room drawing comics or writing short stories.
As children, we have a sense of what we love. We can do and dream without worrying about the practicality of life. As we grow older, we start to realize that artists don’t make much and we should look for more stable jobs.
What did you love doing as a child? How did you imagine your ‘grown-up’ life?
As I child, I loved making others happy.
One Christmas, I made a wish list 2 months in advance and I couldn’t stop talking about it. My mom worked hard to get me everything I wanted. The day after Christmas, my mom heard me dragging a big garbage bag down the stairs. When she looked inside, she saw I had wrapped all the gifts in newspaper. She asked why and I said, “When I got these gifts, I was so happy. I want the neighbor’s kids to be happy, too, so I’m going to give the gifts to them”!
To this day, I do my best to make others happy. In fact, a reason I made this website is to help you achieve your goals and be satisfied in life.
What did you enjoy doing as a child? What were you known for as a kid? What activities and qualities can you revisit?
4. What’s Important To You? How Can You Make A Difference?
We all have that one cause that lights a fire in our soul. When you talk about it, it brings a gleam to your eye and the words spill from your heart.
What is that for you?
The world is so messed up. There are a thousand causes to choose from. You could help combat racism, fight for refugee rights or end world hunger.
Changing the world is everyone’s dream. To have an earthshaking impact on humanity is a powerful drive. Yet, the voice in your head won’t let you forget that you are only one person. You’re not Mahatma Gandhi!
It takes more than one person to change the world for sure, but your involvement makes a difference. What change do you want to make? How can you contribute?
5. What Do You Want To Be Remembered For?
If you were to die tomorrow, what do you want people to say about you? What legacy will you leave behind?
Thinking about your death changes your life perspective. Knowing that life will one day end pushes us to make the most of every moment. If you were going to die next week, you would not spend 2 hours scrolling through Twitter trends. You would get off the couch and create an impact.
Retry your high school assignment of writing your eulogy. Mention your great achievements and the values you were known for.
The Possibilities Are Endless
There are two ways to see life:
You can see that it will all come to an end and deem it pointless or you can view the shortness of life as an opportunity to make the most of the time you have.
Give your life meaning. Gain new experiences. Pursue a purpose that makes you happy. Your purpose doesn’t have to be fixed and you can have more than one. Let your purpose guide you through life and pull you toward your future.
How will you make your life matter?
- Boyle PA, Buchman AS, Barnes LL, Bennett DA. Effect of a purpose in life on risk of incident Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older persons. Archives of general psychiatry. 2010;67(3):304-10. Epub 2010/03/03. (source)
- Kim ES, Sun JK, Park N, Peterson C. Purpose in life and reduced incidence of stroke in older adults: ‘The Health and Retirement Study’. Journal of psychosomatic research. 2013;74(5):427-32. Epub 2013/04/20. (source)
- Ostir GV, Berges IM, Ottenbacher ME, Clow A, Ottenbacher KJ. Associations between positive emotion and recovery of functional status following stroke. Psychosom Med. 2008;70(4):404-9. (source)
- Ancoli-Israel S. Sleep and its disorders in aging populations. Sleep medicine. 2009;10 Suppl 1:S7-11. Epub 2009/08/04. (source)
- Kim ES, Hershner SD, Strecher VJ. Purpose in life and incidence of sleep disturbances. Journal of behavioral medicine. 2015;38(3):590-7. Epub 2015/03/31. (source)
- Boyle PA, Barnes LL, Buchman AS, Bennett DA. Purpose in life is associated with mortality among community-dwelling older persons. Psychosomatic medicine. 2009;71(5):574-9. Epub 2009/05/06. (source)
- Diener, E., Fujita, F., Tay, L. et al. Purpose, Mood, and Pleasure in Predicting Satisfaction Judgments. Soc Indic Res 105, 333–341 (2012). (source)