Can You Be Happy Without a Purpose?

March 4, 2023
Those who felt their life to be meaningful were less depressed and felt greater satisfaction with their lives.-Stager et al 2006

Simon Sinek taught us to start with why. In his groundbreaking TED talk he explained that people with a purpose love going to work and they're more productive and creative. They go home happier and have stronger relationships. They treat their colleagues, clients, and customers better too. Inspired employees make for stronger companies. And if that isn't enough, purposelessness, the opposite of living with purpose, is a risk factor for both depression and poor relationships. It's obvious that having a sense of purpose and meaning underlying day to day actions is good for you. This doesn't help at all if you don't have a clue what yours is!We can get so caught up in looking for our why that sometimes we cannot see what's right in front of us.How you live your life including your choice of activities, your values, and your passions are all deeply connected to your bigger purpose. Purpose doesn't have to be lofty or altruistic (although it might be). Knowing what feels important to you can be useful in clarifying. You can begin by looking for your smaller purpose, your intention behind every action.When you are driving to work think of your intention- to get there safely and on time.When eating your lunch what's your intention- to fuel your body with healthy foods.When you yelled at your partner what was your intention- you wanted them to know that you felt frustrated. (this may not have been the strongest method but at least you can identify what you were going for, right?)When you binge-watched Santa Clarita Diet for 4 episodes what was your intention- okay, maybe sometimes there isn't a strong intention behind every action but noting that is progress in and of itself.Over time, as you check-in regularly on your intention you will become more familiar with how and why you make choices. This is an exercise in learning about YOU. The successful outcome will have you knowing more about yourself.Next, see if there are areas of your life where purpose has more clarity. Sometimes there is clarity in some areas but not others. Try thinking of your purpose as:

  • a consumer- how do like to spend (or save) your money?
  • a traveler- do you enjoy new places or prefer familiar ones?
  • when exercising- do you like the gym, yoga, or running?
  • when eating- do you love long lingering meals or grab and go?
  • for entertainment- do you like movies or live theater?
  • when reading- do you like magazines, novels, or biographies?

Your purpose doesn't lie in these answers but as you practice you may notice that purpose is clear about how you parent but not how you spend leisure time.You know you enjoy volunteering but you don't love the job that pays the bills.I have a little questionnaire I use with clients who want to get clearer on their purpose. If you want a copy, I'm happy to send you a download. Email me- with "Purpose Worksheet" in the subject line and I'll send one your way.To answer the question in the title, of course you can be happy without a clear purpose but science and history both show that purpose increases happiness.If you get clearer, I'd love to hear your purpose. I'm posting mine in the happiness trajectory facebook group. Feel free to join! Remember, purpose is fluid, it changes as you change. Purpose is also one of seven happiness boosting habits- stay tuned for the other six.

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