How to find your purpose for greater life fulfillment and happiness

Too much time spent without purpose is associated with unhappiness. Happiness researchers suggest we stay engaged with meaningful activities. 

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I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of "sva-dharma". I was in Lenox, Massachusetts at the Kripalu yoga center embarking on a yoga teacher training immersion. That was over 20 years ago - hard to believe!

It set me on a quest to understand the inner working of my soul and my psyche. I developed a deep longing for inner realization and a sincere desire to lead a purposeful life even though I didn't know what that looked like at the time.

What I do know is that our path unfolds before us each day with all kinds of twists and turns along the way. As long as we are on this earth, we are learning and growing. If we pay attention, there are common threads and themes that weave through our lives to guide the way for each and every one of us.

Too much time spent without purpose is associated with unhappiness.

Happiness researchers suggest we stay engaged with meaningful activities. Not to be confused with busy­ work or trivial tasks.

Economists have coined the term "unretirement" to describe the hordes of people who retire, find they don’t like it, and go back to work. Between 25 and 40 percent of people who retire reenter the workforce.

So how do you know if you are on track?

Are you languishing, flourishing or somewhere in between? Simply reflecting on the question is an effective diagnostic tool.  Do you wake up ready to start your day or would you rather go back to sleep? Do you have a sense of purpose or do you find much of your day to be meaningless?  

Our Happiness wheel helps assess life balance leading to greater happiness and fulfillment. Rate yourself on the eight essential elements on a scale of one to ten, with categories focusing on mindful movement, natural nutrition, play in your day, passion and purpose, community and camaraderie and more. The simple task of doing the exercise and asking yourself these questions can put you on a path to making positive changes leading to a greater sense of purpose. Download your copy of the Happiness Wheel.


Multiple cultures describe the concept of Purpose

Sva-Dharma in Hinduism, refers to one's own right, duty, or nature; one's own role in the social and cosmic order.

The Japanese call it Ikigai. Did you know there is no word for retirement in their culture?
A recent TED article entitled "What is the ideal age to retire? Never, according to a neuroscientist" addresses the importance of engaging in meaningful tasks and remaining socially connected.

Ikigai (ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.”

When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose and fulfillment to your life, while also contributing to the good of others. It is a concept of the convergence of one's personal passions, beliefs, values, and vocation.

Ikigai is similar to the French term “raison d’être” or “reason for being.”

Challenges lead to growth and opportunity

Although the pandemic brought on challenges like isolation, uncertainty, trauma, and for many, grief, it also brought a shift in perspective, new opportunities and a re-alignment to what is truly important in life.

There is no singular way to respond to heartache or difficulty, yet having a personal or collective purpose gets us through the tough times.

Change requires us to reflect, make tough decisions and be okay with living outside of our comfort zone. My best creations have rarely come out of times when I was smooth sailing - “smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors”.

Ideas, new solutions, and actions have come from moments when I was deeply confronted and challenged. Those were/are the times when I take a walk in the woods or sit on my meditation cushion to let the waves of energy and emotions move through me. When I slow down, get quiet and listen inwardly, clarity often arises in the form of new ideas and intuitive guidance for the next steps.

Let life move

We all need to keep moving forward and also be prepared to course-correct along the way.  Life has a way of surprising us at times. Even when I don’t always understand my inner GPS, I follow my heart’s navigation system anyway. I realize that everything I have done in the past so far, every role I have played, and work experience I have gained, has prepared me for the next chapter in my life.

Our corporate wellness program of School of Happiness – Be Well 360 was born during the pandemic to serve a need our customers were asking for; to Be Well at Work and become more skillful at staying centered, focused, healthy and fit during massive times of change.

This initiative may not have happened the way it did had there not been a global pandemic along with customers looking for wellness solutions. Dharma is also about stepping up when the need arises.

My dharma

Helping others to be conscious creators of their well-being leading to more fulfilling lives at work and at home is my dharma. My life. My purpose. I love creative work and the opportunity to serve my community every single day.  I get excited about new possibilities and co-creating projects every week.

When we are on our path of purpose, it doesn’t feel like work even though we dedicate countless hours to move a project forward. We often enter a state of flow when living our passions. There is an internal force and drive which propels us forward to fulfill a purposeful mission.

What is your dharma, purpose or ikigai?

Through self-reflection and asking yourself these three key questions, clues begin to emerge aligning you with what really matters most.

  1. What do you love / what are your passions?
  2. What you are good at / your unique talents?
  3. What does the world need that you can contribute to?

How can you serve others? Living with purpose and meaning gets us up in the morning and helps us become more intentional about our day.

This short message below is taped to my desk on a post-it note and serves as a reminder to stay centered in gratitude for my work and projects.

                                            Before work = motivated
                                            During work = joyful
                                            After work = satisfied

Am I satisfied with my day?

I often ask myself, what is the one thing I would like to get done today that will leave me feeling satisfied by the end of the day?

Keep moving the needle forward bit by bit, like the Kaisen approach of 1% improvement each day; what can you do in under 10 minutes that will move you in the direction of your purpose or something meaningful to you?

While work doesn’t have to be the main driver behind your sense of purpose, studies show that re-framing how you think about your job can improve your sense of satisfaction. Deepening relationships with co-workers and reminding yourself how your job contributes to the greater good can change how you think about work.

Find purpose in everyday routines

What things do you look forward to each day? What gives your life meaning? Research has found that humans flourish with daily routines like working on a new skill or reaching out to thank the people you value in your life, seeing improvement in projects, quality of life enhancement, small moments of mastery, and connection with others.

Take a step today, ask yourself the 3 key questions. The path appears and unfolds more clearly each time you take a step forward towards greater meaning and purpose.

Laura Warf is the co-founder and Chief Happiness & Wellbeing Officer of the School of Happiness, an online fitness and wellness platform that guides people to cultivate a resilient body, a clear mind, and a happy heart leading to optimal health, happiness, and fulfillment at home and at work.

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