The Essential Ingredient to Finding a Sense of Purpose in Life

Most people drift through days robotically, feeling vaguely lost and dissatisfied.

They filter through the system, doing what they’ve been told to do, living out cookie-cutter lives, and distracting themselves whenever possible.

This may sound like a cynical viewpoint, but I’m afraid it isn’t.

I’ve definitely been one of those people for periods of time. Some days, I still feel like a confused automaton trapped in a cold and unforgiving matrix.

I ask myself, “What am I doing here? What makes this life worth it?”

Photo Credit: ruanyuanyuan123456789

Photo Credit: ruanyuanyuan123456789 (Creative Commons)

When I begin to ask myself these questions, I have to take a step back and examine my most profound motivators my deepest beliefs.

It is through reflecting on these beliefs that I am able to regain a sense of purpose and an acceptance of some of the drudgery that will inevitably arise on my path.

If you wish to have a consistent sense of purpose and motivation in life, you need to believe deeply in something.

And it can’t be just anything, but more on that in a moment. 

A Few Words on Most People’s Motivations

The people I mentioned earlier – those who pass aimlessly through life – tend to lack the type of motivation to which I’m referring.

These people are motivated primarily by one or more of the following:

1. Selfishness – They constantly ask, “What can this do for me? How will I benefit from this?”.

2. Greed – They are primarily concerned with accumulating significant wealth, property, and other fancy or shiny things with which to decorate their lives and distract themselves.

3. Hedonism – They seek out every opportunity to indulge in shallow pleasures – sex, drugs, TV, fast food, etc. These things aren’t inherently bad, but when they become the primary aims of one’s life, emptiness follows.

4. Pressure to Assimilate – They submit to the status quo (often unthinkingly), copying the latest trends and fads. They do this mostly because it’s easy, because they’ve been lied to, and because they deeply fear being rejected by their fellow humans.

These types of motivators are rampant in society, and unfortunately, they lead to widespread discontent.

Perhaps some people can follow these motivations and convince themselves that they’ve attained some sense of purpose. But personally, I think it will always be an artificial, lie-to-yourself kind of “purpose”.

Finding a Deeper Motivator

So, now I’ve explained that most people feel vaguely lost because the majority of their motivation is comprised of shallow and selfish desires.

I’ve also hinted that in order to attain a true sense of purpose, your motivations need to be based in deeper beliefs. What do these beliefs look like?

Well, deeper motivating beliefs can take many forms, but I believe that they always have a common denominator.

Deeper beliefs that endow us with a true sense of purpose have their foundations in love, compassion, and sharing.

As opposed to the selfishness that governs most people’s lives, selflessness is truly at the heart of the deepest motivators – those that fill us with a sense of purpose.

Basically, you have to want to do what you’re doing because it helps other people (or animals, don’t forget animals).

Examples of Deeper Motivators

Here are a few of my deeper beliefs. These are values that I hold at the core of my being. I try to allow them to govern most of my daily activity and my larger life decisions.

As you’ll notice, they’re based on sharing my talents and myself to affect others.

1. A belief in my ability to impact the world in positive ways and ultimately to help create a better world.

2. A belief in the power of cultivating love and spreading it to others.

3. A belief in the value of creating art and sharing it with the world.

4. A belief in reading, learning from my experiences, and gaining understanding in all forms – to better communicate with others and to become a better person.

5. A belief in the supreme importance of nurturing my relationships with my family and friends.

6. A belief in the value of trying to be kind and generous to everyone. 

You might ask, where do these beliefs come from?

I think that, for some people, beliefs such as these derive from their religion. For more people, though, I think they come as a result of experience.

Either through helping others or realizing the suffering of other people, you come to develop greater levels of compassion.

As this happens, you come to understand that shaping your life around sharing your talents to help others is the most rewarding way to live.

The Hardest Part (Acting On It)

For me, these beliefs didn’t really solidify until I decided to try to start caring more for others and doing something about it.

I began volunteering often, helping students and friends with their writing, and eventually, I started this blog. Traveling abroad may have also had something to do with it.

It took a bit of faith for me to do those things. I was a pretty selfish person (and still am, sometimes), and it would’ve been much easier for me to keep doing what I’d been doing.

However, after truly investing effort into bettering the lives of other people, I finally realized that that’s why we’re all really here.

We’re all in this life together, and if we love and help one another, amazing things happen. We improve the world and find purpose.

And therefore, I’m asking you:

If you’re searching for a deeper sense of purpose, start cultivating compassion by actually working hard to help others.

The “working hard” part is most important. There’s no way around it. You won’t begin to find that true sense of purpose until you’ve made a real effort.

The good news is that you can start really small. Smile at a stranger. Hold the door for someone. Volunteer a couple hours at a local animal shelter. Go from there.

Don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. The point is not to do something tiny and ask, “Is my life meaningful yet?”.

The point is to make a habit of losing yourself in the act of serving the world, and to realize that you feel useful and content while doing so.

So go ahead. Make an honest effort. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but that’s because it isn’t. It’s more important.

A better world starts with you and I. That’s the motto. That’s the purpose. Now let’s go live it.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is a Lover of God, healer, mentor of leaders, writer, and music maker. The best way to keep up with his work is to join nearly 7,000 people who read his Substack newsletter.

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Francis Meyrick
10 years ago

I looked for one word, and I never found it. “Curiosity”.

Jordan Bates
9 years ago

i think that’s on point, Francis. i look back at this article and feel like there are many ways to find a sense of purpose in life, curiosity being one way for sure. i don’t mind having encouraged people to help others, though 🙂

9 years ago

There are no idols, no heroes in a world of death.
It’s all a joke and so are you,
and so am I… think? just look and see…
It’s a fucked reality.

Jordan Bates
9 years ago
Reply to  Nobody

i pondered this, nobody

9 years ago

Thank you for enlightening me on this matter. Now, at least I have a more specific direction as to what to do with my life and how to make it more meaningful. More power to you!!

Jordan Bates
9 years ago
Reply to  Harvey

thanks, Harvey. glad you found this helpful. 🙂 just do your thing and have compassion for all other earthlings. that’s about all there is to life, if you get way down to it.

9 years ago

Thank you for those helpful words.
They embody what I believe, though I sometimes find it hard to remember them everyday…
I will certainly research more on the subject and I particularly loved what you said about animals,

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