How to find your purpose in life and give it more meaning?

Struggling to find your ‘why’? Follow these steps towards a more meaningful existence

Thoughtful woman wearing a red jacket sitting against a yellow wall while writing notes
(Image credit: Photo by Xavier Lorenzo/Getty Images)

How to find your purpose in life and give your life more meaning is a question we could all benefit from exploring further. 

Do you ever feel like something’s missing in your life? Here’s a secret—that feeling is actually quite common, and it often boils down to a sense that your days lack meaning. The search for meaning is pretty important, it’s basically one of the best self-care practices there is. Yes, it seems like a mammoth task, but studies have even found those who find purpose in their lives are on average happier, sleep better and live longer

The Japanese concept of ikigai—which means ‘a reason for being’—can be a useful starting point to think about finding your life’s purpose. According to the theory, your ikigai is the sweet spot between what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and—fantasy alert—what you can get paid for. It sounds perfect, right? 

Sadly, few of us can find our ultimate purpose in our 9-to-5 job, nor would we necessarily want to (as much as it would be nice to earn sweet cash for living out all our hopes and dreams). Instead, most of us accept that our purpose in life doesn’t have to be just one thing – it can come from multiple sources. We would likely be dissatisfied if we focused solely on our jobs or our hobbies or even on our families, partners and friends. Often, our meaning comes from a mixture of all of the above.

But how to find it? Here are some useful starting points:

Keep a journal 

Writing a journal is a valuable tool to reflect on what you want from your life, as well as keeping you accountable to your goals. 

Your daily reflections are a window into your psyche. Look for patterns in your journal entries. What makes you happy on a regular basis? Who and what inspires you? Try it, you’ll be surprised by the added sense of order and meaning it inspires in your life.  

Use your talents 

No one likes to feel like their talent is being wasted. If you’ve got a passion or skill that you’re neglecting, think about ways you could fire it up again in your daily life. 

For instance, if you have a flair for baking, channel that by whipping up weekly treats for your housemates or hosting a regular bake-off with friends on Zoom. 

Alternatively, if you’re business-minded, ignite your passion by starting an entrepreneurial side hustle outside your day job, like a cake-making business for your neighbors. Who knows, maybe one day you could turn it into a full-time gig! 

Be curious 

Many of us worry that we lack a central passion to give purpose to our lives. But, in order to change that, it’s important to show curiosity, to take an interest in the outside world which might ultimately ignite your passion. Even if it takes you a while to discover your ultimate ‘why’, curiosity is associated with greater life satisfaction

Give back 

We’re social beings, and typically we like to feel that we are contributing to our wider communities. Giving to charity, volunteering or mentoring—anything that helps us feel we’re sharing our skills and resources with others—can fill us with a sense of purpose. 

Woman painting flowers with water colors, top view

(Image credit: Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Pursue a hobby  

OK, it’s likely you struggle to find purpose in some—or perhaps all—elements of your job. But exploring a passion outside work can be a great counterbalance, and can help you bring a whole lot more fun and meaning to your regular routine. 

Perhaps this involves getting back into something you’ve loved since childhood, such as drawing illustrations, or starting something entirely new—learning Italian perhaps? 

Find your flow 

Ever get so absorbed in a task that you look up and think you don’t know where the time’s gone and come away feeling energized? That’s flow. Flow, a concept masterminded by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a great way to think about finding purpose in the activities you do—inside and outside work. Doing more of whatever gives you ‘flow’ can help you feel a sense of meaning in your life.  

Have meaningful relationships 

While the hard work of finding your individual meaning is down to you, it has been observed that having close relationships in our life can help us to learn, grow and discover that all-important purpose. This isn’t about co-dependency (i.e. relying on someone else for all your needs) but instead creating a mutually supportive dynamic in which you encourage, listen to and champion one another. 

Francesca Specter

Francesca Specter is a freelance journalist and the author of Alonement: How to be alone and absolutely own it. Based in north London, she's previously worked for Yahoo Lifestyle, and Healthy magazine, and has written for the Telegraph, Red and Huffington Post.