This has been a favourite topic over many years. Yet, I am not the only one who sees its crucial relationship to psychological health. Drs James Crumbaugh and Leonard Maholick have pioneered a Purpose in Life Test and I personally have used it with groups and individuals to concentrate on prioritizing purpose in our lives.
We often hear of people feeling meaningless and this has been called “Existential Vacuum.” The above test reveals the level of this crucial factor affecting individuals, who have been often resigned to a doom of purposelessness. Personally, I grew up in a purposeless home and I had to learn the relationship to contrasts of purpose and purposelessness. Yet, it was great preparation for my young future. Fortunately, my first job was with a Hydro-Electric construction gang, when I learned some contrasts relating to attitude. I soon learned that my purpose was to “help.” Whether it was to help the man next to me or to look for future consequences of lending a hand or not, and to enact the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Fortunately, for a new sense of purpose, I was to leave my step-father’s home and be invited to share home with neighbours. This would teach me a sense of purpose to pay my way in the world, with efforts to help my host family. Here, I think a sense of purpose was to come of a sense of fairness, so I would offer to “hold the fort,” while my host family had a weekend away. This included feeding the horse and a few cattle, also milking one cow. The spring weather indicated no need for heating the house. Yet, these duties and decisions were my responsibility although unsaid. Thus, these responsibilities comprised a sense of a purposeful job in my mind and I did contemplate their significance as the adult duties.
When my host family returned on a Sunday afternoon, and found all duties were done, I was proud that I could take these responsibilities, as they were all necessary for me to do. As I tell of this weekend, I am reminded of a story written about “the Accidental Tourist,” which was about such serendipity or enlightenment by experiencing the unexpected. As I reflect on my host family and my sense of responsibility, without naming it, it was an apprenticeship in finding purpose.
These days, I can find purpose in life by writing to people who are feeling bereft of any purpose, day to day. There is a possibility of finding purpose in helping someone who is struggling with a task that is worthy of their chosen action.
If someone is struggling to understand a dilemma, I can listen with empathy so that person can explore the basis for his or her dilemma. This is done by responding with empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is reflecting on that person’s feelings and the reason for the feeling. If our reflection indicates their feeling and the reason for their feeling and you are accurate, they will say so by saying they agree. Moreover, they will explore their dilemma and you can listen as you nod your agreement. This is like providing a supportive platform, and they can feel supported as they continue exploring. They will usually solve their dilemma without our advice! In addition, “most advice is free and it’s worth every penny!” In this manner, I certainly find a sense of purpose! Moreover, it is being inspiring!