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What You Need to Live a Life of Purpose

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” ~Robin Sharma

I can remember the feelings so vividly—the emptiness, the yearning, the confusion, the lacking, and the depression. They all merged together, and they always seemed to present themselves at the worst possible times.

The simplest things, like getting out of bed in the morning, felt so heavy. The best joys in life, like being with family and creating new connections, felt unsatisfying. Things were heavy, hard, and almost unbearable.

I didn’t understand what was creating these feelings, or what I needed to do to change them.

It sounds like such a cliché to say that one day something happened that changed my life forever, but it did: Everything transformed for me when I decided to focus on creating purpose in my life.

Life is a whole different experience when you understand what guides you.

Let me shift gears with a question: Why did you come to Tiny Buddha today?

If I asked Sigmund Freud why we do the things we do, he’d say that our behavior is motivated by sex and aggression. I believe that on a completely primal level, he’s right.

In the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul MacLean invented the Triune Brain Model which says you have three parts to your brain:

  1. The reptilian (instinctual) part
  2. The mammalian (emotional) part
  3. The primate (thinking) part

The reptilian and mammalian parts of your brain are very basic in nature. The reptilian handles things like aggression and territory. The mammalian handles things like food and sex. So far we’re right on track with Freud’s theory.

But now we come to the third—thinking—primate part of your brain. This is the part that’s focused on things like perception, planning, and handling complex concepts. This is the part of your brain that knows deep, deep down, you need meaning in your life!

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian existential psychologist, created a school of thought called logotherapy. Unlike Freud, who said our main motives are sex and aggression, Frankl surmised that our dominant driving force is to find meaning in life.

You see, Frankl experienced something that Freud never had. In the 1940s, Frankl was held prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. Imagine this: You, your family, friends, and all your neighbors are all cornered, captured, and transported to mass murdering sites where you’re dehumanized and likely extinguished.

Frankl lived that reality. He felt the horror of losing everything only to be tortured and terrorized. With all the agony and brutality, what kept Frankl from giving up his relentless fight for his life?

It was purpose! He found meaning in his struggle, and that’s what gave him the power to push forward through unimaginable pain.

After escaping the concentration camps, Frankl published a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, which explores his experiences and includes an overview of logotherapy. A quote by Nietzsche nicely sums up his philosophy on how people were able to survive the camps, without losing the will to live:

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

That is the power of purpose. Torture, brutality, unimaginable inhumanity—purpose supersedes it all. Purpose is what gives us the strength to carry on, if not through dire conditions, then through difficult changes, transitions, relationships, and activities.

As Frankl wrote:

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

But be careful of getting stuck in suffering mode and mistaking it for nobility.” Frankl also wrote, “Suffering unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”

Do you think it’s time you make some life altering decisions to stop any suffering and find a more meaningful life?

The Different Types of Purposes

Fortunately for us, we’re in much better situations than Frankl was, meaning we’re in a different boat with finding purpose. When living a practical life of purpose, we can see the picture on both a “micro” level and a “macro” level.

Your micro level purpose is to know your values, and then, be in integrity with them. When you know what you stand for, and do what you believe in, your confidence and sense of self-worth will be sky-high, regardless of how much the situation sucks.

But that’s only part of living on purpose.

Your macro level purpose is something different. It’s the big picture. It’s your search for meaning. It’s your ultimate goal. It’s waking up in the morning knowing you’re on the right path, regardless of what other people say.

In his Tiny Buddha contribution, Discovering Happiness through Purpose in 3 Natural Steps, Scott Dinsmore explored three things that must align for you to discover your purpose: values, strengths, and passions. However, there’s one vital piece to the purpose puzzle that’s missing.

The Missing Piece to the Purpose Puzzle

Your purpose is about giving, not getting.

We all want to better ourselves and our lives, but purpose—like success and happiness—is counterintuitive. Here’s what Viktor Frankl said about service:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

You want love from people? Love people! You want more money? Help people make money! You want more joy in life? Give joy to people! Sounds so simple, right?

In fact, I’m gonna suggest that the more we can give, while enjoying the process, the more we’re going to love our lives.

Finding Yourself

Here’s where it all comes together.

In Scott’s post, he wrote, “The intersection of your true values and super powers, backed with relentless passion, is where the magic happens.”

Well I believe, when you find where those things intersect, and then use that for service to others, you’ll find the answers to the two big questions, and consequently, know your purpose.

The equation looks like this:

Your Values + Strengths + Passions + Service = Your Purpose

Don’t let all the different variables discourage you. Once you dedicate some time for introspection and reflection of those variables, you’ll rapidly start to realize the direction you need to move in.

Start by creating 3 lists:

  • Your values
  • Your strengths
  • Your passions

The key is to figure out how you can combine your passions and strengths in service to a cause, person, community, or organization other than yourself. Do that and your values will fall into place.

The Actual, Practical Part of Living on Purpose

In her groundbreaking book, The How of Happiness, Positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that only 10% of happiness comes from extrinsic incentives like money, fame, and status.

If that’s the case, would you be willing to sacrifice some of the money you’re making in order to do passionate work that’s more fulfilling?

If so, here’s the magic financial formula that you’ll need to know:

Your income must be greater than your expenses!

That’s it—the whole secret. If you’re able to start chopping away at your expenses by eliminating non-essential items (like your car, cable TV, eating out, and frivolous shopping), then you’ll create an absurd amount of choices and opportunities in your life.

I know it sounds like a massive lifestyle change to get rid of these things, but a massive lifestyle change may be exactly what you need in order to find and live your purpose.

We’ve only got one life to live—and none of us will live forever.

Don’t think that you’re being heroic by “toughing it out” and doing things that don’t fulfill you. As Frankl wrote, suffering when not necessary is masochistic, not heroic!

This journey called life will be over before you realize it. Why spend another second living a life that isn’t personally meaningful to you?

Photo by alicepopkorn

Lori’s Note: I have been a huge fan of Jacob’s site since we first connected several months back, and I’m excited to support him as he launches his first eBook today. I highly recommend checking it out! You will find the link in his bio below. Congratulations, Jacob. =)

 

Avatar of Jacob Sokol

About Jacob Sokol

Jacob Sokol is committed to living an extraordinary life. Today he released “Living on Purpose – An Uncommon Guide to Finding, Living, and Rocking Your Life’s Purpose.” He also loves his mom dearly. You can save 25% off of Living On Purpose if you purchase it by this Friday and use the discount code “TinyBuddha.”

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://www.sensophy.com/living-on-purpose/ Jacob Sokol

    Thanx so much for the opportunity to contribute here. It’s always an honor and super “On Purpose” for me!! 

  • NML

    All posts here are great….but this was very thoughtful and well articulated.  Thank you for sharing and inspiring your thoughts on this important issue.

  • K.

    Thanks so much for this post today!  What you wrote truly hit home and I intend to share this info with my counselor who wants to diagnosis me as clinically depressed.  Am I feeling down?  Yes.  But, his suggestion of taking meds to make me feel better is NOT what I want or need.  As for friends, they suggest that if I had children that I wouldn’t feel this way…that I would then have a purpose each and every day!  I think that’s hogwash too.  Is having children the only purpose in this life?  I don’t think so and I intend to keep searching to figure out what my purpose is!  I personally feel that I may have not found my answer yet, but in my heart I know when I do…look at world cause here I come! :)
    This middle aged, single, female from NY wants to personally thank you for posting something that is truly meaningful for me.  It’s time to make my lists! 

  • Mary Deane

    Great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tee-Fimmano/100000081279357 Tee Fimmano

    This is REALLY good!! For me, the bottom line is “your purpose is about giving, not getting.” It’s everyone’s purpose. But we’re all so wrapped up in ourselves, we have to step back and realise that “I Me Mine” is not the way to lasting happiness. Thank you!!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Congrats on your new book, Jacob! I wish you much success and many readers.

    Deepak Chopra described a 5-minute meditatation on the Dr.Oz show earlier this year. I now do this meditation regularly. One of the sentences in it is “What is my purpose?” He says it’s not meant to be a question in the sense of seeking an answer, but rather a question we place in our heart to let it dwell there. My analogy (not his) is that going through the 4 questions in the meditation are like priming the pump, I suppose. (Ha, I just realized the association between “heart” and “pump” as I’m writing this.) After my meditation one day, I began riffing on the idea of “purpose” — exploring some thoughts that arose, like “Why do we need purpose?” and “Who invented this idea that
    we need to have a purpose anyway, and when?” and “Is this some kind of new-age thing from mid-last-century?” The word itself only came into use mid-1200′s; it just meant “to put forth.” The meaning of doing something “by design” didn’t develop until the late 1500′s. But I’m curious about the origins of the more spiritual or metaphysical interpretations surrounding “life with (or without) purpose” and whether “finding our purpose,” as you’re using the word, is just some current angst we’ve invented, along with other “shoulds” we have to take care of before we’ll feel fulfilled and can live in joy.

    Not to worry, this is no critique of your process or this article or your book — all of this is just a personal mind-game. I’m just saying this is why I clicked to your post. It’s fun thinking about “purpose” in a more abstract way, rather than a seeking-it way. This is leading me to read more about what others think of the word and its meaning. Thanks too for referring us to Scott Dinsmore’s post on the topic.

  • Tresa

    The first two paragraphs is where I am at and have been for past 2 years even more!  This sense of life passing by and me stood still. I have been standing still not because of lack of wanting to, but for the want of direction, purpose, clarity of mind.

    For past couple of months, all I want to say is “I quit” and walk out of that job that is draining my soul. But not knowing what exactly is that I want makes it impossible at times to think clearly.

    Thank you for the post Jacob, it makes one feel perhaps that one day something will happen that will change my life.

    Hey I’m gearing up, packing my bags and moving countries in the next 4 months or so, maybe that will lead me to my purpose, or hope so.

    Why is it easier to know what you don’t want than to know what is it that will make your life fulfilling..

    Good luck all your journey to find your purpose.

  • http://www.rebuildyourlifecoach.com Harriet Cabelly

    Great post!  Man’s Search for Meaning is one of my all time favorites and Nietzsche’s quote guides my life.  You’ve expressed it all so well.  Thank you.

  • http://uzma7.wordpress.com/ Uzma

    Thank you for that equation. Often we look at all of these, value, strengths, passions, service in isolation, but putting them together will definitely help us in the big picture..Also important to keep trying and staying open to possibility. Not only in our work is our purpose but in our daily life, in our everyday interactions, in our being. So apart from the doing, one has to also ‘just be’, all that we believe in…in all aspects of life. Thanks for a great post. 

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    Good for you for questioning people who suggest having children is a way to give your life purpose.  Like you said, having them would be one way to do that, but definitely not the only one!  You have such a great attitude – it sounds like there will be wonderful things ahead for you!

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    THRILLED that you thought so! My deep pleasure.

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Thanx!

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Ahhh! Thanx for the warm words Harriet – great stuff!! 

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Love it! Love it! Love it! -=)

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    LOL Tee. Sweet!! Stoked to have reminded you of what you had already known ;). 

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Tresa – i can relate, and sometimes, knowing what we don’t want iw a valuable asset that we may overlook. If you’re interested, i’d love to hook you up with a copy of Living On Purpose, for free. I think you may get something out of it -=).  The moving countries stuff sounds fun too!!

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    WOW! Great insights Kate. So much goodness and potential conversation. 

    I think that everyone is unique in the sense of “what works for them.” There are some universal truths and there are also some things that fit some people and not others. I tried to structured the purpose discussion around universal truths. It could easily be called something other than purpose but ultimately, i find this wisdom to be a bright shining star to illuminate an extraordinary path in life. Thanx for the thoughts!

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    WOW! K. I’d love for you to shoot me an email so i can hook you up with a copy of Living On Purpose. If you’re up for it, my email is Jacob@Sensophy.com. Thanx for sharing your experience here – i think you’re spot on!

  • Tresa

    K. The comment about having children just cracked me up laughing, only because I have been on the receiving end of it several times. Children and marriage seems to be the ultimate solution to all problems! My parents tell me that I am being selfish by not ‘settling down and having children!” I guess in their head they think that would give me my purpose in life.

    I think the search for a purpose is so inherent, for some more than others. And when that frenzy sets in there is no shaking it and it could probably be ignored or covered up for a while but it resurfaces again.

    I wish you all the very best and hope you find your purpose, I hope I find it too! :)

  • Tresa

    Jacob, I won’t be saying no to a free copy! That would be great if you could email that to at tresa_j20@yahoo.co.in .  The moving countires stuff sounds fun I admit, but scares the living lights out of me sometimes. But I guess I have nothing to lose except a steady income and the security of the mundane job.

  • Rico Entera

    This is a great post especially at these times when i often feel lacking and empty. I’ve woked so hard yet at the end of the day I still dont feel a sense of purpose.

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Sent. Keep me posted! -=)

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Hey Rico! Happy to hear this helped a bit -=)

  • BUDDY

    What a post!!  Much enjoyed reading..  A big cheers for the perspective you shared…

    Hope you have a great day..

    Regards Buddy(mark)..

    HAPPY DAYS!!!

  • K.

    Hi Jacob. I would love that!   Kboffuss@optonline.net
    Thanks so much.
    K. 

  • K.

    You to Tresa!  

  • Ka

    Thanks Alannah. :)

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  • Allan

    Great post, Jacob. 

    This relates very well to a TED talk video presented by Simon Sinek (found here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html ) where he discusses the three levels of business.

     I like to apply his business model to life.  His model suggests that there are three levels we operate on: what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.  In short, he stresses that focusing on why we do what we do, will naturally produce fantastic results in how we do it, and what we produce.  This focus on purpose vs. an end goal is a great perspective to be happier in doing what you do.  Goals are fine, but they should be a measure, not the focus.

    Again, great post. Take care.

    - Allan

  • AnonWriter

    I’ll have to come back to read this and think about it. I have to go to a meeting, but I’m bookmarking this.

    I have no problem with my micro purpose, but I have zero macro purpose, no passions any more.

    I used to have passions and macro purpose, but the people around me shamed them out of me. Not bad people, per se, maybe the real problem is that I let them do it.

    When I had a passion, it was sometimes a foreign concept to others: “why would you be interested in that?” I would try to explain why I loved what I was doing, but people didn’t want to understand. “Are you still doing that weird activity/hobby? You should stop, people will think you’re strange.” This didn’t bother me too much at first, maybe not for 5 or 10 years into my passion… but what bothered me over time is that hardly anyone ever thought it was good for me to have my passion. I rarely got questions about it where the intention wasn’t to damage my passion. Eventually, this gets to you at a subconscious level.

    The biggest problem was my ex-wife. She tried to be supportive (at least outwardly), but in her depression she was jealous that I had passions. Over the last 10 years we had together (of our 25), she destroyed my ability to care about anything other than my kids… and that includes myself – as a person now incapable of passion, I don’t really care about myself. I don’t think she meant to hurt me.

    Every time I try to have a passion now, there’s a voice inside that tells me it isn’t worth it, that people will ratchet up the pressure to take away my passion until it is gone. My only option is to either remove all people from my life or give up having passions. I’m not sure which one I should choose.

    The risk of trying to find something to be passionate about today is very high.

    I used to live for my passions. They burned with a fire that was so incredibly hot. Maybe others were jealous of that, or it was just that the passion took some of my time away from them, I don’t know. But they got their way. The last activity I was passionate about died in 2006. Since that time, I have given up, and it feels like my existence is meaningless. I do hope that when I come back and read more here, it will help.

  • Bagel

    Kids are not the purpose to life or the answer to happiness. Trust me you’ll just be a mom with the same challenges.

  • HOPE,LOVE,PEACE

    I googled a few random words yesterday and it led me to this post. I dont know what i was looking for but I am glad I did!
    I have always felt like I have been a passenger in my own life, like I have been drifting even though to someone looking from outside, my life has everything (mostly) one could aspire to.

    I have learnt that things will come to you when you stop resisting. I always felt I didnt need to read any kind of self help stuff because I already know this stuff…. after all its not rocket science? Is It? I stopped resisting and let your words in and that has brought a change. It is tiny but its there. Whats more important is that I know its there and its made me more aware, more me.

    ‘ He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How’
    My new mantra. :)
    Thank you.
    PS
    signed up to volunteer for a couple of charities as its something I have always wanted to do but never done.. because its something I know will make me happy.

  • Illusionary Truth.

    You have no eyes yet hold too many hands.

  • SherryC.

    K. You go girl! I am 54 years old, married for 27 years, two adult children ages 26 and 24; and I am in the same boat as you! Kids will not make you happy, or give you fulfilling purpose in life; I know because I’m there right now! I’ve given my whole life to caring for everyone else around me including the elderly and sick and my children! Where has that gotten me? I’m still empty inside; no purpose in and for my life! I think a lot about suicide! I am thrilled to find this Tiny Wisdom site here! I am going to strive to find my purpose in life! I wish you luck in your journey!

  • Maynard

    Hey Jacob. You rock!. This article is a clear reminder of living a life in the zone of flow where anxiety
    and boredom are kept out of the main course of our life.

  • Jordan Walker

    This is very insightful THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Yasmine Zazi

    well if you want a detailed answer then you could check this http://islamtomorrow.com/purpose.htm

  • http://instagram.com/dailyislamicreminder Yasmine Zazi

    well if you want a detailed answer then you could check this

    http://islamtomorrow.com/purpose.htm

  • scott

    I didn’t see you mention having God in our life gives us a purpose, the reason for living & thinking of other with real problems instead of poor poor me when my life is really great just thing around us are changing. Make a freind, share a laugh & share a cry thats what keeps us going for me I’m nothing without God in my life. My Purpose each day is to encourage someone & share how God fulfills my life. Have a great day God loves us.

  • al

    Wow, I really needed this article. I have absolutely been focused too much on success instead of joy. This has made money meaningless. My parents were both very wealthy and became slaves to the money. It does not take much money to feed yourself so feed yourself, feed your soul.

  • http://www.HonorTheDash.com/ HonorTheDash.com

    Hi Sherry. I pray all is well…just know that the storm will pass and when it does, a gift of wisdom awaits.

  • Cole

    What a great article. I’m writing a book about finding and living life on Purpose. I love finding others on the same war path. Keep up the good work, and keep living within your Purpose, this article will mean so much to so many. -CH