Understanding your Why

Throughout the years the meaning of life has changed for human beings. We have stopped thinking about life in terms of “survival” and started thinking about how we want to live it. But how do we figure out our purpose, our “why”? And why is it important that we do so in the first place?
thoughtful man

Why we need to figure out our “why”

Friederich Nietzche once said, “He who has a why can endure anyhow.” Whether you agree with Nietzche’s overall philosophy or not, this is a point that has been widely acknowledged and accepted over time. This “why” that he refers to is one’s life purpose–the internal motivating force that guides and enables humans to navigate life’s ups and downs and stay on course. It contributes to a sense of meaning and, for many, it is their reason to live.

Over the years, many studies have shown that having a life purpose or “why”  greatly improves an individual’s mental and physical well-being. It has the potential to reduce stress levels, improve coping mechanisms, and encourage healthier life choices. In fact, an ongoing study of 7000 people over the age of 50, showed that, statistically, people are likely to have better mind-body health and live longer when they have a clear sense of individual purpose. In another recent study, arthritis patients about to undergo knee replacement procedures, likewise, showed better coping strategies and recovery for those connected with their why.

Peace of mind for your colleagues

Research studies aside, for a moment, let’s consider a more basic example. Suppose you have an important purpose. You want to start your own company or live out your life with the person that you love or be able to take care of your aging parents. Because you have these long term “why”s,  you’re more likely to be conscious of your health. If you go to the doctor, for instance, and are told that your cholesterol or blood sugar is too high, you’ll probably eat healthier and start exercising. Having a “why” provides you with an important reason to think about your long-term future. The logic is simple: What you want to achieve will serve as motivation for you to make healthier life choices.

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Then how can I figure out my “Why”?

Some people live for the sake of a great love. Some find purpose in the work that they do. Others find their “why” in living a simple, stress-free life, removed from the constant hum of the city. Because everyone is unique, there are as many reasons to live as there are people in the world. Everyone has their own needs, desires, ambitions, and goals. So, if having a “why” is important for our longevity and improves our chances of wellness, then how can we go about discovering it? How can you figure out what your “why” is?

Some people are lucky enough to discover their purpose very early in life. For others, it takes a long time. One person might figure this out around college. Another well into their thirties. Yet another after retirement. Everyone discovers their “why” at their own pace, in their own time. If you haven’t figured out your “why” just yet, rest assured you are not alone. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that, while you still haven’t connected with your “why”, you are in the process of figuring it out. As long as you continue inquiring, you will eventually get closer. 

In the meantime, here are some thought-provoking questions to meditate upon that can help you to discover your “why”:

·    What inspires you and makes you come alive?

The word “inspire” comes from a Latin word that means “to breathe life into”. What are some of the things that make you feel as if life is being “breathed” into you? What energizes you and makes you feel truly alive? As you consider this question, start writing down all the answers that come to your mind. It doesn’t matter how big or small the activity is that you’re thinking of. The only thing that matters is how that activity makes you feel.

·   What are your inner strengths and abilities? What do you add the greatest value to?

Essentially, what kinds of problems are you good at solving? What do you do very well? How do you feel like a valued contributor? What are you best equipped and/or able to handle? Start making a list of all these skills, strengths, and abilities as they come to you. In all likelihood, you’ll discover strengths that you’ve been taking for granted and, therefore, didn’t notice.

sitting near the sea

·   How can you combine your inner strength and abilities with the things that inspire you and make you come alive?

Now, we come to the crux of things. You’ve made two very important lists: A list of things that inspire you and a list of your strengths and inner abilities. Put these lists side-by-side and see if you can find a way to combine them. What, if any, strengths and inspiration can you unite? How can you make connections between the two? Be patient with your process. As said earlier, figuring out your “why” takes time and inquiry. It’s natural to not see clearly, at first, how to combine something you’re good at, such as copywriting, with volunteering at a local shelter. The more you elaborate on your strengths and inspirations, though, the more you’ll be able to discover ways of merging the two. The more you discover, the more you can experiment.

·   Will I really enjoy this? How do I know that what I’ve landed on is my “why”?

So, you’ve thought long and hard and found a new way of combining some of your strengths with some of your inspirations. As per the above example, let’s say you’ve been thinking about how you can combine your copywriting skills with an activity that really inspires you, such volunteering at the local shelter. You’ve decided that writing promotional ads and utilizing social media to encourage animal adoption is the perfect combination of the two. How do you know that this is your “why”, partly or entirely? 

The answer to this question is simpler than you might think: You can’t know if you don’t try. If you have an idea that you imagine will enable you to merge your abilities with your inspirations, then take the risk and see how it feels. At worst you’ll have tried something new and exciting that you might enjoy.  At best, you will have taken an important step towards discovering a part of your life purpose. 

·   How do you want to measure your life?

At this point,  there is one final, important question to ask yourself: How do you want to measure your life? Some people measure their life based on how much money they acquire. Others measure their life based upon how many lives they touched and influenced. Still, others base it on the happy memories they have with their loved ones and on how much joy they’ve been able to bring to them. Much like our “whys”, everyone has a different way of measuring their lives. Understanding how you want your life to be measured, will support you in reconciling your inspirations and skills and move closer towards your true life purpose. 

Editor: Angela Boltz

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