During this quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s and before things start rolling into the day-to-day doldrums, there’s always an opportunity to turn inward and do some self-reflection. This time often brings an urge to evaluate where we are in our lives and causes us to evaluate what we want to focus on moving into the New Year. Defining our WHY can help with this internal questioning process.
In this time of self-discovery, an important tip would be to find or rediscover your WHY. Knowing your purpose can help you better weather life’s ups and downs, both emotionally and physically. Knowing the reason you get out of bed every morning can help you stay motivated and engaged in even the most mundane routines of daily life. Knowing that you are providing for your family or working towards certain long-term career goals or improvements with personal development can help you feel fulfilled and find meaning and purpose in your life.
For example: by the time Mariam Mauna Guessous was 29, she already had a dream career as a creative director at a top New York City ad agency. “I was making lots of money, getting awards. My life looked glamorous on Instagram,” says Mariam who immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco as a teenager, “But it felt like smoke and mirrors.” Despite her success, she was burned out, unenergized, and empty. Eventually, she fell into a depression. “I did some deep soul-searching. I was haunted by this question: “What am I meant to do with my life?” (article written by Jennifer King Lindley and published in Health Mindfulness Magazine Nov. 2022 Special Edition.)
Purpose is your life’s WHY, experts say. “It is a clear, long-term direction that you strive toward that guides your daily activities and shapes your sense of self,” explains Patrick Hill, Ph.D. an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Without purpose, you can feel unanchored or detached, as if something is missing. The effects are felt across cultures. The Japanese call it ikigai, which roughly translates as “a reason to get up in the morning.”
Yet we tend to become so distracted by our daily lives (chasing a job promotion, writing the grocery list, refilling the cat’s prescription) that we forget about the bigger picture. It doesn’t help that we live in “purpose-challenged” times, says Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning.“ The traditional sources of meaning have been defined as being part of a close-knit family/community, a shared religious faith, or belonging to a group where everyone’s contributions matter. “Even though these are less common than in the past,” she points out, “there can still be opportunities for us to create our own path.”
Our purpose doesn’t have to be solving global warming. It can be growing vegetables in the community garden, being a good friend or a supportive partner, caring for and nurturing children as a young mother, or following your own spiritual path. What really matters is that you feel what you are doing is meaningful and important. Through research, they are finding that those guided by purpose have healthier lifestyles. People who find that sense of meaning in their lives are less physically reactive to day-to-day stressors. They have shown that their stress-hormone levels don’t spike as much, and they are less likely to respond to physical symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue on trying days.
Purpose is also a powerful source of emotional resilience. Your purpose is like a lighthouse. It guides you through difficult times so you can keep going forward. In studies done at Cornell University researchers found that participants with a sense of purpose were more likely to perceive a steep hill as easier to climb.
Purpose helps us feel connected to something outside of ourselves. It is rooted in a desire to make a difference, to contribute in some way to the broader world. People usually find their purpose where their passions and skills overlap with a need that exists out there in the world.
Discovering that sweet spot can take lots of wandering, detours, and mess-ups. It is as much about action as it is about insight; putting one foot in front of the other and trying things to see what lights you up, or sometimes changing course. That might mean volunteering for a new cause, taking classes to develop a new skill, or stepping outside your social comfort zones by chatting with a stranger. Every step is a good step.
Guessous experienced a few twists and turns after she quit her advertising job. “I listened to a little voice within me that said, ‘Face your fear. Just leave,’“ she remembers. She flew to Puerto Rico, where she spent a month recovering. “I let myself just be.” She journaled and reconnected with nature. When she returned home, she started using her artistic skills to create beautiful affirmation cards to help herself cope.
One affirmation reads: “I walk confidently toward my fear and embrace it until it becomes my strength.”
She started sharing her cards with other women and saw how the affirmations moved them. And then her mind moved into an understanding of what her new purpose would be. “This is what I need to do. I want to use my abilities to help empower women. That epiphany was the first in a series of “bread crumbs”, she says, “realizations that were guiding her toward a more meaningful life.” Now, a few years later, she is the founder of I See You Wellness in Brooklyn, a healing space where she runs self-care experiences for women of color and other underserved communities.
Often times our personal struggle directs us to our individual path of purpose.
What’s your WHY or your purpose for 2023?
Be brave and dare to ask questions. Writing prompts to help you identify your specific purpose in the New Year.
What does my ideal life look like?
How would it be different from my current reality?
What first steps could I take to help bring about that change?
Whom do I admire? Why?
What might their example show me about my life?
What are the moments in my life in which I felt most alive, engaged, and joyful? What do those moments have in common?
How can I fill my life with more of that?
While you ponder the answer, you may become more certain that you’re on the right path or feel inspired to go in a completely new direction. This is an ever-evolving process. The more I discover who I am, the more my purpose expands. It is so freeing and there is such a sense of clarity that comes with this inner knowing.
It’s a New Day . . . It’s a New Year . . . . It’s a New Beginning!