Kori Novak, a California-based researcher at The Oxford Research Center in Humanities and a professor at Concordia University in Nebraska, suggests searching for your purpose can be as simple as “looking outside, in [your] neighborhood, gardens, places of worship, grocery stories or in front of [your] house.” In other words, purpose does not have to be a world-changing, epic desire to fix or soothe the ills of humanity, but rather something that fulfills you on a personal level, in your own community.
“Everyone has a purpose,” Novak insists. Look to your childhood interests, or the most recent thing that brought you joy or meaning.
Morin echoes this sentiment and encourages some self-reflection on what has created a sense of meaning in your life in recent years. “Simple every day activities may help someone feel as though their life has meaning. A chef may find their purpose is creating delicious food that helps people feel happy, or a hairdresser may find their purpose is helping others feel beautiful.”
What gives you meaning can change throughout your lifespan, too, though there are benefits to developing it early. “Studies show adolescents and young adults who have clear goals have higher levels of well being later in life,” Morin says.
And older adults, particularly after retirement, who volunteer “in a sustained way tend to have better health and live longer,” says Parissa Ballard, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina. She says that researchers theorize that, “Volunteering gives older adults a sense of purpose.”
If you still haven’t found your purpose today, Morin says that it’s never too late. So rather than cashing in on a new gym membership, consider a little quiet time with yourself, tuning in to the things that make you feel like getting out of the bed in the morning. You may be closer to your purpose than you even realized.
Jordan Rosenfeld is the author of 7 books. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, DAME, Quartz, New York Magazine, Scientific American and many more. Follow her @JordanRosenfeld.