Finding your Meaning and Purpose - Food for the Brain

Finding your Meaning and Purpose

So – what is it that gives you a sense of purpose? Of course, your sense of purpose may change at different times in your life; for example, taking care of your family may give you your feeling of purpose. But, when your children grow up, or leave home, or if they disappoint you, what happens to your sense of purpose? Many people gain a sense of purpose through doing work that feels important and meaningful. This could be training in a profession, or setting up in business and making it work. But often, once they’ve achieved the goal, they begin to lose their feeling of purpose.

However, there are certain ways of finding purpose that can carry us through life. For most of us, being of service to others gives a sense of purpose. Your service could take many forms. It might be service to your children or grandchildren, or to the community. It could include political action, supporting worthy causes that you feel passionate about or simply helping people you meet. Another powerful and ongoing feeling of purpose can come from your connection to nature, and doing what you can to nurture the earth – from gardening to recycling, to being involved in environmental issues. For some, doing everything with love, or with excellence, gives a sense of purpose. What is it that gives you a sense of purpose? In a moment we’ll give you an exercise to help you, if you are unclear.


Another purpose can be your own self-development – becoming the best you can be. Sometimes, this is originally motivated through our own desire to be happy and free of emotional pain, but through the process of our own transformation – however we have achieved it – and learning how to let go of our own limited concepts, negative patterns, selfishness and pettiness, we become more able to be of service to others.

For some, being of service to the greater good is what gives life a sense of purpose. Some people practise this by identifying with a figure who represents what they aspire to be – be it Jesus, the Dalai Lama or whoever. The Dalai Lama once said that every human being has a desire to be happy, and to be free of pain, and that his daily practice is to remember that his desire to be happy and free of pain is of no greater, or lesser importance than that of those he interacts with. This kind of active compassionate practice can also give you a sense of purpose.

An ever-changing journey

Of course, your purpose changes at different times of your life. As you get older you may realise your purpose is not so much your job, but your calling as to what you are here to do – although they can be one and the same. People who struggle with retirement are often struggling with re-discovering their purpose. There’s a description of increasing maturity as the expansion of your circle of caring: from yourself, to your family and immediate friends, to the community, and then to the world.

As Bertrand Russell so aptly said, having a purpose larger than yourself is what makes life meaningful. Here’s a simple exercise that will help you find your purpose. You’ll need a pen and some pieces of paper and a place to sit quietly and comfortably.

Exercise: finding your purpose 1

  1. Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Recollect how you felt at the age of ten. What gave you your sense of purpose then?
  2. What was your sense of purpose at ages 15, 20, 26 and 35? Write down whatever comes to mind without too much deliberation, making a list of different purposes you’ve been aware of at different times in your life.
  3. Now, ask yourself, ‘What gives me a sense of purpose now?’ Write down as many of your current purposes as you can.
  4. Now, become still, perhaps by doing a meditative practice, or just focussing on your breath, and ask your innate wisdom, your higher intelligence, ‘What is my true purpose?’ Offer this question without ‘thinking’ the answer, and write down, without censorship, whatever comes to your mind, starting with the words, ‘My purpose in life is …’

Exercise: finding your purpose 2

Another way to become clearer on your purpose is to answer these questions:

  1. What do you love to do or enjoy doing?
  2. What makes you feel good? What gives you a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. We all have certain gifts or talents. For some it’s the ability to listen; for others it’s having a clear mind. What are
    some of your gifts?
  5. What is needed now in the world, in your community or your family?
  6. How can you use your gifts to help or to serve?

When you contemplate these questions, and put the answers together, you will find some powerful insights into your own purpose.

Your homework today is to give yourself some time to do these exercises. Here’s a tip. In the Indian tradition there’s a visualisation exercise called Yoga Nidra, which takes 20 minutes, to help you find your purpose. It’s a bit strange, really relaxing and works. We like Swami Jakananda’s twenty minute ‘little Yoga Nidra exercise called ‘Wholeness of Your Nature’. This is available for free on youtube: or you can download a digital version from It’s also a great way to de-stress, reenergise and end the day. Doing this first might get you in the right receptive mind frame for the above exercises.