“My life has no purpose…and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?”
– Snoopy, Cartoon Dog
The transition from impulsivity to purposeful action is part of my daily journey with health-seeking teens, and a big part of my personal journey of wellness. Why? Because there’s happiness in a purposeful life, no matter if you’re following some big PURPOSE in your life or just savoring your daily coffee. Purpose is key to meaningful joy and meaningful joy will sustain us.
“It is who you are in your day to day life, every day of your life, that matters more than anything else,” says Dr. Susan Biali, “No matter what your limitations are and how far you might be from your dreams, you can be purposeful in how you spend your time” (2014).
She says “you can be purposeful,” I say you must be purposeful in how you spend your time. We only have so much time to spend, after all. This fact is championed by Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics. He says that “Attending to what makes you happy is vital, primarily because…if you’re paying attention to one thing, you cannot pay attention to something else at the same time. So in order to become happier…we pay more attention to things that make us happy, and less to those that make us unhappy” (Grenville-Cleve, 2014). Simple, right? Sure simple here on the screen, but entirely complex and difficult to live out among our daily clutter of obligations, duty and competing desires. Especially when we often confuse happiness with impulsivity but purpose with drudgery and duty.
No Purpose, No Problem!
“The process of searching for purpose does not ‘serve its purpose’ if it causes you to be frustrated and annoyed with your life while you search.”
-Dr. Susan Biali, Embrace Life Expert
Making purposeful actions often becomes muddled with the “big P”—our Life’s Purpose. I caution against that. Our life’s great purpose, what “we were put here to do” can be a truly wonderful guide in life, but it is not essential to purposeful living. We do need to identify the things we value in life, but that’s much easier. Then we just chose in line with those values. With each well-considered choice we’re “systematically building a life that feels more fulfilling, balanced and meaningful” because we are living more authentically. We are fulfilling our needs based on the core values that we prioritize and “developing a sense of purpose” moment-by-moment, even if some grand fulfilment of our role in life has not yet shown itself (Biali, 2014). Purposeful living is a time saver. The competing desires and clamoring decisions of life all can be cut through by comparing them to our core values.
So every choice we make, forever must be a core value judgment? I know, that sounds awesome, right?! No, it sounds dull and heavy. But wait, for true fulfillment, purposeful living must be balanced. Sometimes we should also make choices that don’t go against our values, but put them second to our happiness. Professor Dolan has identified two groups of people, “those who are predominately interested in having a good time (‘pleasure machines’), and those who are predominately focused on purposeful experiences (‘purpose engines’)” (Grenville-Cleve, 2014). Pleasure machines are impulse-driven and purpose engines seek to fulfil their core values, but healthy living is a balance of both.
If we choose to have a moment of joy that doesn’t invalidate our values, it is still purposeful because the ultimate purpose is a balanced happy life. A purposeful life is a life of fulfilled momentary happiness and meaningful happiness.
Choosing to Dance
“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.”
– Dr. Wayne Dyer, Author
Making 2015 the most fulfilling and happy year of our lives is possible with purpose, even if we don’t know our great purpose. Once we know our core values and begin a life of purposeful action, there’s a good chance that our greater purpose will come into focus as the clutter of impulse is naturally cleared away. Many of us don’t go around knowing our core values, though. Mindtools.com offers this simple Values Worksheet to help easily define them. Perhaps the first purposeful action of 2015 is to click that link.
The best part of living purposefully is that not only will our lives become more fulfilling, meaningful and feeling under our control, but that the more practice we have at it, the faster and easier it will become. Professor Dolan has shown that “Like cleaning your teeth…activities and behaviors that make you happy can become second nature…you don’t waste scarce energy, effort, and attention because these actions and behaviors become part of who you are,” (Grenville-Cleve, 2014). Making that first choice toward your core values may be difficult, but eventually it’ll become teeth-brushing easy. Putting those values aside to act on a joyful moment may feel like grinding our gears after a series of core-fulfilling choices, but they will become a seamless flourish after many such daily pirouettes.
I wish you a happy, fulfilling and meaningful 2015—now get out there and choose it for yourself!
Biali, S. (2014) Finding Your Purpose in Everyday Life. Prescriptions for Life. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201406/finding-your-purpose-in-everyday-life
Dolan, P. (2014). Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think/ Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life. London. Allen Lane. Also: Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think. Hudson Street Press.
Grenville-Cleave, B. (2014) Designing Happiness for 2015. Positive Psychology News Daily. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/bridget-grenville-cleave/2014122630701
Mindtools (2015) What Are Your Values? Deciding What’s Most Important in Life. Retrieved from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm