What is purpose?
Dr. Bill Damon, Director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence, defines purpose as "a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”
Purpose amongst teens has been shown to facilitate identity formation, increase positive attitudes towards diversity, attenuate antisocial behavior and bullying, decrease engagement in risky behaviors, and increase academic engagement. Furthermore, interventions to promote purposeful behavior have been found to lead to significant increases in grade point averages.
But purpose isn’t just important for young people. Adults with a purpose in life report higher levels of psychological well-being, flourishing, hope, resilience and life satisfaction. Given the intimate connection between psychological and physical well-being, it is not surprising that purpose is also associated with physical health. Purposeful people have been found to live longer and have significantly lower incidences of heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.
Having purpose is fundamental to cultivating a meaningful life because it connects you to your raison d'être, something that matters deeply to you and gives your life direction. We often think of purpose as something you are supposed to find in your work, however purpose extends far beyond work and can be found in all aspects of our lives including our social relationships and the activities we engage in outside of work.
How does "purpose" relate to "meaning"?
We consider purpose to be one aspect of meaning-making alongside four other fundamental components that collectively constitute a meaningful life.
Our toolkit encourages students to explore the roles that all these pillars play in their lives and offers ways to deepen their experience of each. Consequently, the first two thirds of our toolkit cultivates self-awareness and world-awareness, while the third chapter more explicitly focuses on purposeful action in the form of a group project. We encourage students to think of purpose as a non-linear and reflective process they can draw upon for guidance throughout their life.
Note: The above categories of meaning are adapted from Emily Esfahani Smith's book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters.