As we’ve mentioned previously on this blog, purpose vs. process is not an “either/or” question, but a “both/and” scenario. If we wish to thrive, we must focus on and develop both.
That being said, most of what we’ve discussed thus far has been described through the lens of process. It’s time we shift our discussion and view things through the lens of purpose.
Purpose is a bit of a catch-all term that includes several related ideas. The first thing to understand about purpose is that it is not just an action or an outcome; it is a theme. As in a novel, our lives may have several acts or chapters all serving the same theme. If you were to write a novel, you might start by considering some sort of message you want to convey.
This message will greatly affect our lives in various ways. Simply put, purpose has to do with our belief about how or who we must be in the pursuit of a thriving, meaningful, life.
It is our guide for our process of life. Purpose acts in many ways to influence what we think and believe, how we act, and who we become. As we will discuss later, we live with a purpose regardless of whether or not we consciously choose one. It can be a passive theme that develops without our intention, or it can be a conscious effort on our part. It affects us regardless of whether we are aware of these effects, so it is in our best interest to harness them.
But it is not just our guide, it is also a source of energy and resilience for our process. Purpose is our answer to the question of “why?” It empowers us to do the thing that isn’t easy, but that we deem correct. It is our defense against adversity, hardship, and challenge, allowing us to do things we would not do without a powerful reason.
Purpose is also our ticket to a thriving, fulfilled, satisfied life on the whole. Purpose gives us the potential for thrivelihood. While it may be possible to be happy without recognition of our purpose, living a purpose that aligns with and upholds our beliefs will account for how we desire to contribute, how we want to grow, and who we want to be. All-in-all, it enables us to live a meaningful life of positive contribution.
Distilling the ideas above, we can discuss the power of purpose in the context of two main benefits. We’ll briefly present those ideas here, and elaborate on them further in the coming weeks:
- Purpose affects perception, and therefore serves to both motivate us and make us resilient.
- Hedonic happiness is only half the story. The other half, eudaimonic well-being, comes from purpose.
The first reason to value purpose is because it makes us resilient. And as we saw in previous posts, resiliency is a foundational aspect of our thrivelihood. Therefore, purpose is also a foundational aspect of thrivelihood.1
This isn’t news; people have been talking about the role of purpose in resiliency for quite some time. Nietschze knew it:
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
As did Viktor Frankl:
“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
In a coming post, we’ll discuss purpose in the context of resiliency; how our purpose can color our perception, thoughts, language, and actions in ways that make us stronger and more effective.
The final reason in today’s discussion requires us to examine the very concept of happiness.
The word “happy” has gone mostly out of fashion in the psychology world, partially because it gets used in so many ways that it’s beginning to lose its very meaning. Instead, positive psychologists have begun further classifying positive emotions in a way that is more specific and more useful. One of these distinctions is between hedonic well-being vs. eudaimonic 2well-being.3
Most of us are familiar with the concept of hedonic well-being. This is the lifestyle of doing enjoyable things, and not doing things that are painful or otherwise not enjoyable; the pursuit of joy, amusement, etc.
However, what this theory leaves out, and what our understanding of “happiness” has left out for a long time, is what’s known as eudaimonic well-being. Eudaimonic well-being is the satisfaction or gratification that comes from personal development, or participating in meaningful, important work.
Eudaimonic pursuits are often ones that may not be particularly fun in the moment, but nonetheless contribute to our overall well-being and potential/future, such as by making us healthier, more well-informed, or otherwise more capable. It’s a critical part of our well-being, which we will discuss more in depth in the coming weeks.
Whether you’re achievement-oriented or strictly a live-in-the-moment type of person, there’s an important role for purpose in all of our lives. More on that next week.