What is my purpose in life?
Having a sense of the purpose of one’s life, or a feeling that there’s a job to do or potential to be fulfilled is known to be an important determinant of both length of life and freedom from illness. A sense of purpose is the belief that one has a direction in life, or goals worth living for.
Even in the face of terrible conditions, uncertainty, sickness, imprisonment or other ills, a sense of purpose or meaning for life can buoy a person up and give them the motivation to overcome barriers and move forward.
Victor Frankl is a psychotherapist who has studied people’s life purpose extensively. He has developed what he calls “logotherapy” to help people discern their purpose by looking at their own experiences and the work they have done. Frankl himself is a Holocaust survivor and he recounts his own determination to rewrite a manuscript that was confiscated from him by the Nazis as the purpose that helped him survive the horrors of the camps. He went on to become a respected writer and therapist after the war.
Bipolar disorder can give sufferers a fluctuating sense of meaning or purpose. Madeline Jaekle, writing in BP Hope, vividly describes her own manic episodes as “filled with an unbridled sense of meaning, purpose, or obligation…” – a sense that, she shares, often “dissolves” when the manic episode is over. Depression, on the other hand, is well known to induce a feeling of meaninglessness or purposelessness to life.
Maintaining a healthy and realistic sense of purpose in life is therefore critical to finding balance amid shifting moods. Frankl suggests reflecting on three important questions to find or strengthen the sense of purpose:
What have I created or accomplished? What work or works have I done?
Who have I loved fully? What experiences have I lived fully?
What is my attitude in the face of unavoidable suffering?
Interestingly, according to Frankl, it is not necessary to have the sense of purpose first, and then begin the process of creating or experiencing, rather, it is through these experiences that we find our purpose. He suggests that we question ourselves about our own experiences to find reasons behind what we are living through and that these reasons can, in turn, give us the strength and sense of balance needed to face our challenges creatively.
In these uncertain times, reflecting on and deepening our own sense of purpose can give us the balance and stability we need to be able to overcome whatever challenges we face.