What is My Purpose?
Finding your True North
What is the purpose of life?
Ask Google, and you’ll find innumerable answers of varying reliability and worth. It’s a popular question that vexes many of us. Have you ever wanted something and felt like once you attained it, all your problems would disappear, and happiness would, at last, be yours? Only to discover that once at the top of the corporate ladder, or living comfortably in the home, neighborhood, and with the family you desired, something continued to gnaw at you. Maybe it was a death in the family, a death too close to home. But it shakes you up and leaves you asking why and what’s the point? What’s the purpose of life? Or, maybe it was a bitter and painful divorce or a series of bad relationships? Sometimes it’s the feeling of being rudderless and lost at sea.
The search for meaning is a quintessential element of the human condition and an eternal question. It is our hope to provide some insight into this conundrum, and offer a holistic perspective that combines the best of modern research and the perennial wisdom of saints and mystics.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Research suggests that living with a purpose can have both mental and physical repercussions. For example, even a minuscule increase in one’s sense of purpose can mean a significantly reduced risk of heart attacks and stroke for adults (Kim et al., 2013). Similarly, purposeful living can reduce stress, improve coping and enable health-promoting behaviors (Hooker et al., 2018). In general, psychology suggests that while a sense of purpose has tremendous value for the individual, it is intrinsically related to making a difference to others. In other words, people feel purposeful if they work together.
Spiritually, the purpose of life may be said to have two aspects: a macro collective meaning and a micro individual meaning. Our shared, collective purpose is Self-realization, which manifests individually in unique ways, since there are as many paths to such realization, as there are people. As it said, no two grains of sand (nor humans) are the same. This latter unique purpose is the subject referred to by the psychology literature in the previous paragraph. Interestingly, pursuing the greater purpose (Self-realization) invariably leads to finding and fulfilling our unique, individual purpose. However, this is not always the case, vice versa. It is for this reason that spiritual traditions accentuate the larger purpose of human life – Self-realization. It is perhaps also for this reason that the micro purpose that one may hold onto dearly at an initial stage in life oftentimes offers less meaning later on in one’s journey.
From a devotional or theistic point of view, this preponderance of the greater purpose is Biblical: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew, 6:33). And Quranic, “I have not created humans and jinns, except that they should worship me” (51:36). The words to worship in the above verse can be better understood as to know according to prominent mystics like Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (The Book of the Secret of Secrets, 9). As such, the verse echoes the wisdom of the ancient precept, “Know Thyself.” Now that we have touched upon the larger purpose of life, it is time to see how it manifests individually on a personal level.
Finding True North – Your Unique Purpose
There are many ways to find one’s unique purpose. Some suggest voracious reading as a means to broaden one’s horizons and thereby achieve said purpose. Others suggest using varied self-assessments to enable one to find and understand the self. Still others insist that building relationships gives life meaning. While these methods do have merit, our suggestions (in addition to these) are slightly more traditional.
For instance, we recommend Jyotish or Vedic astrology, which provides a roadmap to life. The ancient Hindu seers were brilliant in their intuitive perception of human life and how destiny (Karma) has a hand in it. In Sufi terms, Jyotish is related to Qadr, the Divine principle that facilitates the fulfillment of destiny. Indeed, some medieval Muslims had a keen interest in the study of astrology (Ilm al-Nujūm), despite prohibitions by exoteric Islamic interpretations. According to Jyotish (lit. the Light of Divinity), life has four main pillars: one’s purpose based on individuality and nature (Dharma), the resources available to achieve said purpose (Artha), the motivation and actions needed for the same (Kama), and how all of this relates to the final, higher purpose: Liberation (Moksha). Moreover, Jyotish also offers tools and remedies to recognize and prevent pitfalls on the journey.
Another way to discern one’s purpose is simply through focused spiritual practice, which offers far more certainty. To the extent that a person commits to spirituality, the uniqueness of their worth and contribution becomes clear. This path, however, can be aided with the help of tools such as Jyotish and sciences like psychology and personal development, etc. “It is only when a traveler has reached his goal that he is justified in discarding his maps. During the journey he takes advantage of any convenient shortcut,” said Sri Yukteswar Giri, the teacher of Paramhamsa Yogananda in the spiritual classic An Autobiography of a Yogi. Towards, this end Essential Spirituality provides free consultations, productivity insights, and assessments. Feel free to use them!
In conclusion, it could be said in concordance with the research in psychology that having a unique purpose is crucial to human life. And, spirituality is not only a means but possibly, the means to a truly purposeful life. It gives the seeker a more meaningful part to play in the story of the world, heightens the quality of one’s experiences, and enables an enfeebled body to transcend its infirmities and reach unfathomable inner spheres – individually and together.
Hooker, S. A., Masters, K. S., & Park, C. L. (2018). A meaningful life is a healthy life: A conceptual model linking meaning and meaning salience to health. Review of General Psychology, 22(1), 11-24.
Kim, E. S., Sun, J. K., Park, N., Kubzansky, L. D., & Peterson, C. (2013). Purpose in life and reduced risk of myocardial infarction among older U.S. adults with coronary heart disease: a two-year follow-up. Journal of behavioral medicine, 36(2), 124–133.