What is Purpose?
Before we talk about what purpose is and how it is defined, it helpful to understand what it does. The Science of Purpose reveals effects of find and living your purpose (long life, happiness, abundance, a better world, etc.), but how exactly how does purpose work? When you choose to find your life's purpose it does three powerful things:
- It reveals the deeper truth of who you are and the talents you naturally possess,
- It aligns all aspects of your life (career, romance, health, family, community, spirituality, finance), and
- It guides you - a compass for your life, a decision-making tool that empowers you to set firm boundaries, and make purpose-aligned choices.
The Definition of Purpose
So how exactly do we (PlanetPurpose.org team) define purpose?
Ask a hundred people what purpose is and you’ll get hundred different answers. However, when we aggregate the definitions of purpose across disciplines (psychology, philosophy, sociology and anthropology), as well as across wisdom traditions (Christianity, Earth traditions, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.), we see four key components of purpose.
The first of these is a sense of immutable essence, wherein a human expresses a set of qualities that are always true, e.g. Alejandro is considerate, Jennifer is inspiring, Xiaogang is compassionate, Maya is intelligent or Hassan is creative. These are qualities that describe us at our core, and exist whether or not we do anything.
The second revealed quality of purpose (of studying purpose across disciplines and traditions), is that purpose is also active; it involves us performing activities naturally. These are activities we enjoy, we feel aligned with, are a contribution to ourselves, e.g. playing the guitar, and possibly to others, e.g. playing the guitar for someone. These activities might not be easy, e.g. playing the guitar takes practice and discipline, but they are joyful and rewarding, creating an escalating scale of rewards.
As we perform these purposeful activities we become better at them (strength, grace, speed, memory of string fingering), receive greater joy from our mastery (exclaiming joy after nailing a difficult chord progression) and often have a greater impact on others (playing beautifully for friends). Now, talents are not necessarily what we’re good at by objective measures or peer approval, rather these are activities that bring us alive, that unify us with the moment, that get more enjoyable the more we engage with them.
The third revealed quality (of studying purpose across disciplines and traditions), is that we have the capacity to focus our qualities and talents towards a goal. Goals are a function of vision, of seeing possibilities and opportunities to create a larger, more beautiful, more safe, more peaceful, more efficient, and/or more just expression of something that already exists.
Mission is seeing what could be in the world, or in our lives and communities. It is creative, seeing new ways of acting, expressing and cooperating. This is the most active element of purpose, wherein we say we have a vision to make X better (in some way), we will achieve this vision by being Y (Being), and doing Z (Talents). X can be a creative pursuit, or a service offering (helping others, animals and/or the environment), or really anything that moves you and /or the group you serve towards your vision.
The fourth, final and most controversial revealed quality of purpose, is context. Our missions depend on our vision, and our vision depends on the personal psychological filters we have for understanding reality, AS WELL AS, the quantity and quality of data and science we possess about the world.
Contexts are both given, meaning internalized from family and society, as well as generated individually, through research, self-awareness work and purpose discovery work. As Victor Frankl, so beautifully articulated in "Man's Search for Meaning", we are meaning making machines - we create ALL of our own meaning in the world. This means there is no objective cognitive meaning, in the way that gravity is an objective force in the world, only subjective meaning.
As meaning making machines we can choose to play an active role in expanding and creating the context from which we craft our visions and missions. These contexts get larger, more true and more powerful as we do self-awareness and purpose discovery work, as well by building an inch-deep, mile wide understanding of reality. All of these determine how we choose to apply our gifts and talents, how we craft our vision and how we set our mission to create and serve.
Thus, our individual purpose depends on our context, which includes both our understanding of the world and the stories we tell about ourselves, about the world and about our relationship to the world. Contexts can be either small, e.g. my happiness, or large, e.g. changing the world. Further, contexts can range from deeply informed, an understanding that includes the entire human, spiritual and ecological condition and best practices for optimizing that condition, to less informed, encompassing a subset of the facts of existence, and other/historical practices for optimizing that condition.
Please visit the free education site, B+, to cultivate an inch-deep, mile-wide understanding of reality.
The Purpose Statement Formula
A Purpose Statement is a powerful tool that connects you to your purpose, and helps you make decisions. Each purpose statement follows a formula that combines your Being, Talents and Mission and is supported by your Context, e.g. my purpose statement formula (Brandon):
Being: Integrity and wonder
Talents: Writing, teaching, coaching, inspiring
Mission: Create a world of 7.3 billion humans living their purpose in service of a just, sustainable and peaceful human presence on Earth.
Context: The context / personal meaning I choose to create my life purpose from is a global one. Both the UN and NASA have issued reports that modern industrialized civilization will collapse in ~15 years; G20 governments have been aware of this for at least 20 years and remain impotent and/or hostile to making changes needed to ensure the survival of the human species and achievement of a just, sustainable and peaceful human presence on Earth.
When put together, my purpose statement is “As a man of integrity and wonder, I write, teach, coach and inspire 7.3 billion humans to find and live their life’s purpose, in service of a just, sustainable and peaceful human presence on Earth.” Each of us has the ability to follow this formula (by completing the Purpose Challenge) to create their purpose statement and transform our lives and planet with our purpose.