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  • Donna Richardson, CEC, ACC

Knowing the secret to a happy life


What is the secret to a happy life? I believe you’ve got the answer, but you may not realize it yet.


According to Elaine Houston of Positive Psychology, “The secret to a long and happy life is to live with purpose every day.”


Call it what you like, your raison d'être, calling, or Ikigai, we all desire to know our purpose. Whether we find meaning in relationships or religion, work or hobbies—or in all of these things—knowing our purpose is one of the most fundamental human needs. Harvard research scientist Eric S. Kim, sees it “as the extent to which people experience their lives as being directed and motivated by valued life goals.”


The popularity of finding your why


With his books, podcasts and courses, Simon Sinek has popularized and shone a light on the importance of finding your why—your purpose. But, philosophers, scholars and theologians have written about purpose for centuries. For example, Aristotle used the word telos to refer to the full potential or inherent purpose or objective of a person or thing. The concept of Ikigai goes back as far as eighth-century Japanese writings.


Knowing your purpose affects your health


According to researchers at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University, knowing your purpose offers mental and physical health benefits.


Researchers cite several studies that show having clarity about your purpose can influence your health by protecting against heart disease and improving pain management, and it can increase resilience and lower stress. In addition, people who have a strong sense of purpose are more likely to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Research shows further that knowing your purpose can lead to better and healthier relationships.



When leaders know their purpose


If knowing your purpose provides mental and physical health benefits, it stands to reason that it makes a difference in the workplace, too. Research by McKinsey and Company shows that both individuals and organizations benefit when the connection between someone’s work and the purpose of the organization is clear.



Are you looking for more fulfillment in your work? Congruence between your life purpose and the purpose of your work can contribute to a greater sense of fulfillment.


What is your Ikigai?


Ikigai includes four dimensions: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for. Ikigai is at the intersection of these four dimensions and is thought to be what gives your life worth, meaning and purpose.


Think about it: when do you feel most alive?


Is it when you’re doing what you love and are passionate about? Or is it when you’re doing something that fits with your talents? Maybe it is when you’re doing something in service of others.


Do you know what you are passionate about? When my coach first asked me this question a few years ago, I drew a blank. I had to sit with the question and ponder it for a while.


When you uncover your passions, inventory your talents and gifts; and find where to use them to fill a need, you may just find your Ikigai.


When is it too late to find your purpose?


The short answer is never.


Finding your purpose isn’t a “one and done” proposition. Some of my clients have experienced having more than one calling or purpose. Yours may be different over the course of your life and as your circumstances change.


It’s often when we anticipate or experience transitions, that we find ourselves asking, “Is this all there is? Am I really focusing on what brings me joy and fulfillment? What is my calling or purpose?”


Life transitions—finishing high school for work or university, leaving one career for another, anticipating retirement—tend to prompt some soul searching and reflection.


For me, thoughts of retirement still a few years out on the horizon prompted me to say to my coach, “I need to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.” And with her help, I did figure it out. It’s why I can say confidently that leadership coaching is part of my calling.


4 tips to get you started


Even though knowing our purpose is a fundamental human need, we may be stumped when asked about it. It isn’t always clear how our passions, skills and talents come together to take us on a path where we feel a sense of fulfillment.


If you’re interested in spending some time reflecting on your purpose, the Ikigai diagram is an easy tool to help you do this.


Here are four tips to help you get started.

  1. Do an inventory of your core values - When using a tool such as the Ikigai diagram, it’s important to factor in—or layer on—your core values and worldview. You can download my free Core Values exercise here:

  1. Get feedback – You probably have a good idea about your skills, talents and passions, but people who know you well can also help you with this. Invite feedback from people inside and outside of work to learn more about these things. If you’ve recently taken any assessments to learn about your strengths, personality, leadership style, and so on—and there are a lot of them out there—glean what you can from them as you develop your list of skills, talents and passions.

  2. Find support – Each of us has people around us to lean on for support when making big decisions. As you being to think about your purpose, this could include a friend, partner or family member; colleague or mentor; or a counselor or coach.

  3. Take your time – Figuring out your purpose takes time, so don’t feel that you need to rush it. What method works for you to ensure follow-through? Think about asking someone you can rely on as a sounding board and accountability partner to walk with you through the process.


What is the secret to a happy life? Perhaps it’s unique to each of us, and yet it is the same: to find and live out our purpose.


How would life be different for you and those around you if you lived out your purpose?



Related links:


Why is life purpose is important?

Will a purpose-driven life help you live longer?

Simon Sinek

Ikigai: The Japanese concept of finding purpose In life

Helping your people find purpose in their work

Igniting individual purpose in times of crisis