“Love fits virtue, so hold on to the light,
That’s what our future will be.”
Six years ago I was living a pretty nice life. People would look on me and my (then) husband with envious eyes. We had fun. We did a lot of fun stuff. We enjoyed live music and festivals (including a run of 6 consecutive Glastonburys). We often travelled across Europe and further afield to see our favourite artists. We indulged in fine dining and Michelin starred restaurants. We had season tickets for the local football team. We regularly travelled across country just to have a beer with some friends. In fact, it was a rare weekend when we would have zero plans. Our friends and families would without question say that we were a happy couple.
In August 2016 I left my husband. I then spent at least six months working out why. How could I have possibly been unhappy with that life? As I picked through the pieces of myself, working out which ones to keep I realise the big hole I had in my life. One word kept coming back to me – unfulfilled. I thought about the legacy I would be leaving the world if I died. How much impact do I make on the world, in any capacity?
I realised my life had no purpose to it. I was not using my strengths to do anything more than get through another boring day in a dead-end job or find the cheapest flights and hotels for our next trip. (I do sometimes wonder if I should have been a travel agent…). And while I have always had a strong sense of fairness and moral justice, I wasn’t doing anything to change the world more than sharing the occasional article on Facebook.
(I need to add at this point that there was nothing wrong with or bad about my ex-husband. He’s a good bloke and we remain friends.)
One of the first things I did with my singledom was to volunteer at a local charity, helping Syrian refugees with their English. After a couple of years I found myself in the prestigious position of chair of Preston City of Sanctuary, advocating and aiding refugees and asylum seekers in the city. I also started my own business, firstly as a reflexologist, then training as a yoga teacher. I studied The Science of Happiness, a Yale course lead by Professor Laurie Santos, both for my own personal development but also because I sensed this was vital information that the world needed to hear. And I wanted to be part of the movement that shared it.
Every model of what it means to be happy shows that we need an element of purpose. We need to Find Our Fire. From Aristotle who wrote that there was both hedonic happiness (fun) and eudaimonic happiness (virtue), to Martin Seligman’s PERMA model (the ‘M’ stands for ‘Meaning’), neuroscience, psychology and philosophy all agree that just having fun does not equal a happy life.
There are three parts to eudaimonia which combine to give us the ultimate satisfied life:
- Values. Our values are the foundation of everything we do. They are our moral compass, the guide that guide us towards our purpose. They are WHO we are. I tend to think of values as single words – fairness, insight, acceptance and (of course) satisfaction are among my values. They tend to stay fairly stable throughout our lives, although circumstances and experience can cause a dramatic change in our values.
- Purpose. Our purpose is more specific and often more concrete. We can have a number of purposes throughout our lives, sometimes running concurrently. For example, when you have children, this will create a purpose that drives you in everything you do. As they grow older the ways you support them will change but you will always be a parent. Being more aware of this purpose helps to reframe and create joy, even in the tasks you find difficult. Note that our purpose is not our goals. It’s not necessarily measurable or tick-off-able (although it can be). My purpose is to guide people to live a more satisfied life that they don’t need to escape from. This is a LIFE purpose. I do not expect to ever dust myself off and say “purpose complete”. Goals are the measurables which help us fulfil our purpose, but purpose and goals are different things. Our purpose should feel meaningful and have emotion attached to it.
- Strengths. Our strengths are the tools we can use to achieve our goals and fulfil our purpose. We can easily go through life without being clear on our strengths. Sure, you might have a sense that you were good at maths at school but our strengths change over time. Life experience builds new skills over time. There’s a really good strengths survey here – the results are sometimes surprising! I like to redo this every few years so I can keep in touch with the methods I should use to communicate and fulfil that purpose. Currently my strengths lie is fairness, forgiveness, perspective, love of learning and spirituality.
So it seems that my purpose in life is to help others find THEIR purpose in life! This isn’t necessarily about making big waves (although I have always said I wanted to “change the world”!). Your fire doesn’t have to be revolutionary. Purpose and meaning doesn’t have to be incredibly deep (although you probably want to go deeper than fast cars or designer handbags). Having a sense of why we are here in this life, and knowing how we can fulfil that is key to that satisfied life.