A man on a sailboat looking at the sunset on the water.

Where are you headed in life? What are you striving toward? Do you believe that your life has value and meaning?

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky unpacks the factors that fuel happiness and provides practical strategies to nurture and sustain it. One way is to find and create purpose in your life.

Keep reading to see how having a purpose in life can bring you lasting happiness.

Having a Purpose in Life

Lyubomirsky suggests that having a purpose in life is key to feeling happy because it gives your life direction, creating opportunities for satisfaction and fulfillment. She suggests three strategies for honing your purpose:

  1. Pursue meaningful goals: Create clear action plans, regularly review and adjust your objectives, and seek mentorship for guidance and support.
  2. Engage deeply: Focus your attention during tasks, transform mundane activities into stimulating challenges, and strive for moments of complete immersion in whatever you’re doing.
  3. Embrace spirituality: Consider joining a religious community or dedicating daily time to prayer.

According to Lyubomirsky, these three strategies enhance long-term happiness by helping you to experience genuine satisfaction, overcome challenges, and feel connected. Let’s examine each of these outcomes.

#1: Experience Genuine Satisfaction

Lyubomirsky explains that pursuing goals you care about provides direction, structure, and a sense of purpose to your daily activities. Additionally, achieving each milestone elevates your confidence and self-esteem, transforming each success into a source of joy and motivation. 

(Shortform note: Some experts add that you can either be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to achieve a goal—and only intrinsically motivated success provides the benefits that Lyubomirsky describes. Intrinsic motivation comes from within: You accept your needs and feel comfortable expressing them by engaging in activities that make you happy. For example, you pursue goals you enjoy and aren’t worried about how others judge you. Extrinsic motivation comes from your environment: You ignore your needs in favor of seeking acceptance from others by engaging in activities that encourage external rewards. For example, you pursue goals you don’t enjoy because they garner admiration and positive feedback.)

Lyubomirsky adds that engaging deeply in tasks makes how you spend your time feel more meaningful—by helping you derive joy from the process, not just the result. 

How to Practice Deep Engagement

Let’s look at practical advice for implementing Lyubomirsky’s three methods for deepening engagement.

1) Focus attention during tasks: James Clear (Atomic Habits) suggests that you can trick yourself into staying focused by removing all visual reminders of distractions and adding visual reminders of what you intend to accomplish.

2) Transform mundane activities into stimulating challenges: You can make tasks feel more stimulating by changing your environment, adding time constraints, or engaging your other senses—for example, by playing music or lighting scented candles.

3) Strive for moments of complete immersion in whatever you’re doing: The more you practice being fully engaged, the easier you’ll find it to attain this state of mind regardless of what activity you’re engaged in. This is because being fully engaged employs six of the most addictive reward neurochemicals at once—making it an addictive mental state. According to Steven Kotler (The Art of Impossible), you can kickstart this pleasurable addiction by spending two to six hours each week pursuing recreational activities that fully engage you.

#2: Overcome Challenges

According to Lyubomirsky, striving to achieve goals motivates you to constantly learn, adapt, and embrace new challenges that sharpen both your personal and professional skills—for example, fostering self-awareness and mastering time management. The more you develop, the easier you find it to achieve your goals and the more empowered you feel to navigate obstacles on your journey.

How Goal-Setting Empowers You to Overcome Challenges

Lyubomirsky suggests three methods for setting and achieving goals. Let’s explore insights into how these methods can empower you to overcome challenges as well as practical advice for implementing them.

1) Create clear action plans: Brendon Burchard (High Performance Habits) explains that this process helps you prioritize your time and focuses your attention on what you need to do to make progress. He suggests a three-step process for creating an effective action plan: Write down five major steps you need to take to achieve your goal. These are big steps that require many smaller tasks to achieve. Then, under each of your five major steps, write down a list of tasks you need to complete to accomplish that step. Finally, create deadlines for each of these tasks and factor them into your daily schedule.

2) Regularly review and adjust objectives: Oliver Burkeman (The Antidote) says that setting adaptable goals and regularly reevaluating them ensures that they align with your evolving needs, circumstances, and aspirations. One way to set and review adaptable goals is to adopt a monitoring system like Burchard’s method in High Performance Habits: Every week, chart your work-life balance by ranking your satisfaction levels in 10 areas, like work and family, then set your goals for the coming week in each area.

3) Seeking mentorship for guidance and support: Many experts agree that mentorship provides numerous benefits—mentors provide advice and encouragement, guide your improvement, share knowledge, and expand your network. To find a mentor, try looking on social media (like LinkedIn), in professional networks, in school clubs, or your HR department.

#3: Feel Connected 

Lyubomirsky argues that engaging in goal-oriented tasks often involves interacting with others, providing opportunities to collaborate and work toward a shared purpose.

(Shortform note: Kotler (The Art of Impossible) offers additional insights into how including other people in your goals enhances satisfaction and happiness: It garners positive feedback and social support. This positive attention triggers the release of pleasurable reward neurochemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. This neurochemical release creates feelings of pleasure that make your goals feel more meaningful and boosts your motivation to continue working toward them.)

Additionally, Lyubomirsky suggests that engaging in spiritual or religious activities not only connects you to like-minded individuals and supportive communities, but also strengthens your feelings of inner tranquility and connection to a higher power.

(Shortform note: Studies confirm that spiritual activities like prayer calm your nervous system and make you less reactive to negative emotions. As Lyubomirsky says, these activities foster a sense of connection (with a higher power, the environment, and other people) that emotionally supports you. If the idea of praying to a higher power makes you feel uncomfortable, researchers suggest that you can mimic the effects of inner tranquility and connection by imagining yourself having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone you trust.)

Having a Purpose in Life: 3 Ways It Contributes to Happiness

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *