The Role of Purpose in Life

by Bhaj Townsend

How does purpose really make a difference in life? Let’s look at two anecdotes to show how powerful purpose is.

The first is from Victor Frankl, acclaimed psychiatrist, author, and holocaust survivor. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” he said: “…survival is dependent on direction. However, survival cannot be the supreme value. Unless life points to something beyond itself, survival is pointless and meaningless. It is not even possible. This is the very lesson I learned in three years spent in Auschwitz and Dachau, and in the meantime it has been confirmed by psychiatrists in prisoner-of-war-camps; Only those who were oriented toward the future, toward a goal in the future, toward a meaning to fulfill in the future, were likely to survive.”

The second is from a Scottish study which clearly showed how purpose can positively affect one’s life. This small study was conducted with patients who had experienced a severe spinal cord injury. The study showed that those who had a “goal” for their rehabilitation were significantly more successful than those who merely went from task to task in their rehabilitation therapy. Those who had a purpose to their rehabilitation and a plan for that purpose were able to deal with their obstacles more effectively than those without a purpose to their rehabilitation. Those who had tasks to do gave up more easily.

The question then becomes how do you find your purpose? A simple way is by identifying your core principles, those values that direct your life in an unconscious manner. They have the power to bring your goals to life; they make action palatable when the going gets tough.

Having a purpose can change the meaning of tasks.