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9 Common Reasons Why Humans Seek Purpose

Why do humans seek purpose

Nowadays, it seems like everyone is searching for a purpose. People are changing careers and seeking a sense of meaning on top of their salary. Why is this happening? Why do humans seek purpose?

One of the main reasons that humans seek purpose is to feel important and needed. Purpose-seeking usually occurs as part of building a career, changing jobs, self-actualization, or feeling isolated. Some people might face an existential crisis or a traumatic life event that’ll make them reassess their purpose.

In the end, seeking purpose is an individual endeavor. Each one has a different reason to search for a purpose. Nonetheless, in this post, I bring you the most common reasons based on my journey for purpose, stories of my friends, several studies, and information I found online.

Keep reading to understand why people search for purpose.

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Why Do We Need Purpose in Life?

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”
Winston S. Churchill

As Churchill summarized it, we humans need a reason to live. A sense of purpose provides you with why you are here, which can drive you forward and help you take daily issues in proportion.

Sounds promising, isn’t it?

Now let’s see what this promise means in reality.

Benefits of Having a Purpose

When we have a purpose for our actions, we get extra strength to overcome life challenges. Seeing success in the job or the business makes us feel satisfied and motivated to improve ourselves further. Following how our solutions or ideas help other people make us feel significant and fulfilled.

On top of that common-sense list, more benefits might seem less obvious.

Several studies have shown that having a purpose is associated with better mental health, physical health, lifestyle choices, cognitive function, sleep quality, 1 and even longer life. 2 You can learn more in depth about the advantages of having a purpose in life.

The Motivation to Find Purpose

It is important to note that what we need is not always what we want or searching for. For example, it is widespread to delay the long-term satisfaction of having a purpose for immediate pleasures. You know, going to the bar after work, hanging out with friends, eating that tasty ice cream, scrolling the Instagram feed, or you name it.

Some people strive to achieve the benefits of a purpose-driven life, while others live, try to make ends meet, and enjoy life. The latter are unaware of the purposeful life or prefer to stay in their comfort zone, which is fine too.

At the same time, other people seek purpose desperately as they feel stuck or lost in their life. Seeking purpose, in that sense, is a symptom of the uncomfortable situation they are in.

In other words, the potential benefits of a purpose are not necessarily the motivation to find purpose. While we might need purpose in our lives, it could be that we won’t search for it, and vice versa. We might seek meaning to feel better, while we need to socialize more to reduce overthinking.

That leads me to the next point.

Seeking Purpose vs. Finding Purpose

Seeking Purpose vs. Finding Purpose

When reading articles about purpose, the most common reference is how to find your purpose. While I published several posts on this matter, the focus here will be on why people seek purpose – an essential yet under-covered component of our purpose.

So, it is essential to distinguish between seeking purpose and finding it. From what I know, many find purpose intuitively and do not “seek” it.

Purpose-seeking does not always mean trying to be more impactful and fulfilled. Purpose-seeking can reflect dissatisfaction with life. That could be getting bored at work, facing issues in relationships, loneliness, or even a crisis. Searching for your purpose from scratch is way harder under a problem.

This is what happened to me. I was struggling with my purpose for three-plus years, where I was isolated by choice due to debilitating mind-body symptoms.

The existential crisis led me to explore my purpose actively (see the next section of this post). At the same time, most of my friends had a solid direction in life since graduation. One friend works as a full-stack developer, another as a salesman in the high-tech industry, and a third is a video editor. While the developer and the video editor studied a profession and continued, the salesman studied biology. He got promoted inside the company from a help desk agent to a salesman.

I can tell from all three stories that the search for purpose if any, has happened on the go. They haven’t stopped everything to explore their purpose as I did. They refined it as part of building their career. I will note that they also raised a family at this time – something I haven’t done yet, so that could be their purpose, too.

Both scenarios – mine and theirs, are ok and can lead to finding purpose eventually. Their approach, though, seems more sustainable emotionally. I’m jealous of those whose purpose is to evolve consistently.

So, now it should be clearer what it means to seek purpose. It’s about time to dive into the substantial question – why do humans seek purpose?

9 Common Reasons Why People Seek Purpose

People have different motivations for seeking purpose. Some people want a job that makes them happy, while others look for ways to impact the world through volunteering or activism. People also seek out their purpose because it gives meaning and direction in their lives; they know what they’re working towards (or at least have an idea), which makes them feel more satisfied with themselves and their accomplishments.

In the list below, you’ll find the nine most common reasons for seeking life purpose:

1. We Want to Feel Important

We Want to Feel Important

At its core, a purpose consists of something beyond yourself – leading an enterprise that does good, donating to a social cause, or volunteering to assist poor folks in your neighborhood. Helping others can foster a sense of purpose that make you feel needed for what you do. The sense of purpose, in this context, derives from the gratefulness of the people you help. Studies on youth at risk3 and older care residents4 have shown that we like to feel needed by those we assist.

In 2014 I volunteered for an NGO that provides supportive communities for the poor population 5 in Tel Aviv – my city at that time. I was listening to and empowering two individuals with their daily struggles for two years. I remember how proud I was when I noticed one of them renewed her connection with her family after a long time of disconnection. That was truly inspiring. This experience made me proud of her but also myself for helping her to make progress.

Helping others can also be more abstract by contributing ideas or solutions. You might want to participate in developing a new water purification system or promote a social change in society, such as participating in movements that tackle global warming.  I was privileged to have the opportunity to participate in a local learning group on the social threefolding approach 6. Even though the new ideas haven’t translated into actual initiatives, it felt meaningful to be part of the attempt.

2. Being Educated to Be Grateful and Altruist

When children are taught to be grateful for what they have, they are more likely to give back to the community. 7 Another aspect of that is mimicking. As with any other educational matter, learning is often done by simulating the significant adult’s actions. Parents and teachers who lead pro-social behaviors can yield similar attitudes and meanings among the children. Pro-social behavior has been proven to enhance meaning in life. 8

One of the reasons I was into volunteering when I grew up was the education I got as a child. I studied in a Waldorf school where we were encouraged to participate in social initiatives. My class participated in several social projects, including working in agriculture and a therapeutic village for patients with intellectual disabilities. Few of my classmates from school work in related social positions like community managers, social workers, and entrepreneurs.

3. A Desire to Find Your Passion

Some people feel lost without knowing their purpose, which can lead them to a quest to find something that makes them content. Looking for self-satisfaction is very common among children and teens. They want to enjoy what they do and have fun. Adults also seek that but usually in conjunction with the satisfaction of helping others.

To find your passion, you need to immerse yourself in new activities. Reflect on how your projects at work make you feel. Take courses and go to social events and professional meetups. Learn new skills and try out fun hobbies.

Here you can view how I found my passion in my 30s, some ideas, and tips on finding yours.

4. An Aspiration for Self-Fulfillment

An Aspiration for Self-Fulfillment

In the age of self-improvement gurus and self-help books, striving for self-actualization has become prevalent. Many people seek life’s purpose because they want to feel more fulfilled or satisfied with themselves, which can come from achieving goals and finding meaning in their lives. This is where success interlinks with passion and purpose.

The popular notion is that you must find purpose by exploring it in advance. Sometimes it works this way, but knowing what you are good at and happy after succeeding is more common. Success in a project or a business you initiated can motivate you to refine your purpose further. Then you’d better know where you should focus or what adaptation you should make to feel good about your path.

Individual achievements like making money and getting famous are dominant values. We all want that to some degree. While there are many other forms of purpose, it is prevalent to see self-fulfillment as a manifestation of your purpose.

5. A Need to Belong

Humans are social creatures. We all must feel part of a group, cause, or organization. This might result from feeling left out by friends or family members involved in something bigger than themselves; it could also stem from a desire to connect with like-minded people.

The need to belong also stems from the fear of stay lonely. This is how I felt when I dedicated myself to the research proposal in sociology. I enjoyed the process of finding the gap in the literature and coming up with a research idea, yet I also felt very lonely at the same time. The isolation led me to overthink everything, have a few mood swings, and doubt whether this was the right track for me.

6. Purpose Anxiety

Another typical cause of seeking purpose is the anxiety revolving around purpose and identity. That means not having a sense of purpose while being hyper-aware of missing it. Purpose anxiety is not a marginal phenomenon, as you might think, but a common one. A recent study found that 91 percent of participants experienced purpose anxiety somewhere in their life. 9

Certain types of people are more prone to purpose anxiety, however. For example, highly sensitive people seek meaning more than others.

When I didn’t know what I should be when I grew up, I got panicked. This is one of the reasons I repressed thinking about my purpose from childhood to graduation. I was overwhelmed by the many career options and what suits me the best. So, I delayed my quest for the purpose for too long and kept going with studying for degrees. Meanwhile, I worked on random administrative jobs to make ends meet.

That doesn’t mean I was not dealing with my purpose. It was there all the time in my unconscious mind. Whenever I needed to decide on a job or field of study, I had a little panic attack. When I reached 34 and returned from the academic route, I was forced to deal with my purpose entirely. As you can guess, that was the start of my existential crisis.

7. Existential Crisis

Existential Crisis

Existential crisis could be due to feeling lost or unfulfilled in a given life situation or because someone experienced a situation that made him question life’s meaning 10.

I faced a devastating existential crisis in my mid-30s when I failed to win a scholarship for my post-graduate studies in the U.K. My passion then was becoming a scholar in sociology, and the failure forced me to reevaluate my path. I was looking for a similar career path where I could contribute to the community through writing and teaching.

For three difficult years, I felt empty and lost. My identity and confidence collapsed, and I didn’t have the motivation to work. I had many questions too. As a grown-up fellow with no professional career – what should I do? I was nervous by the fact I had no clue what to do. So, I read about career paths, took several personality tests, and experienced new activities to regain my passion.

8. A Traumatic Life Event

A traumatic life event can be a trigger to seek or change purpose. This is a bit different than an existential crisis, as a traumatic event can force you to change your purpose, even if your previous one was solid and fulfilling.

A traumatic life event is a horrible experience that surprises the person at some point, so he must struggle with it. It can be a loss of a beloved one, living with a rear disease or disability, or facing a mental health issue. Successful authors and ted speakers harnessed their traumatic stories to raise awareness or motivate others to succeed.

An interesting case is Mo Gawdat – A successful engineer manager who was unhappy despite his lucrative career. Using the logic of an engineer, he configured the equation for happiness as something you can choose regardless of life circumstances. After the sudden death of his son Ali, Mo used his principles to save himself from despair. His inspiring book Solve for Happy (Amazon link) on the topic became his purpose – to help others be happier even in hard times such as loss.

9. A Sense of Guilt or Regret

This is common among people who have accomplished a lot in their lives but still feel like they’re missing something or those who regret not doing more with their lives. That is very usual among the mid-age when they start summarizing their achievements and the missing parts.

The search for purpose in its mainstream sense is quite rare at this point. Those who still seek purpose do so in light of aging and meaning and might face a mid-life crisis. 11

Final Thoughts

Seeking purpose guides our life from childhood to adulthood, from the moment you choose your major field at high school to what to study at college. It continues after graduation and might pop up during the career. It could also take place outside work regarding questions of raising a family or turning a hobby into a business.

Unpleasantly, purpose-seeking could also become a burden in life. Some people, me included, face an existential crisis or a traumatic event that forces them to rethink their purpose.

My self-discovery was long and challenging. It took me three years until I reinvented myself as a blogger and content creator. I’m so jealous of those who know from a young age that they will be doctors or lawyers and then actually go for that path.

They always seemed to be more confident and booming than people like me. But today, I understand it’s not necessarily true. You become more confident and happier whenever you finish defining your purpose because you have meaning in your life.

Some people would figure out their purpose intuitively, some would struggle to find meaning more than others, while others might not mind their purpose, and that’s ok too.

Don’t feel bad if you are struggling with finding your purpose. You are not alone. Many like you, and I’m here to ease your journey. This blog is designed to help you explore your purpose effectively and pleasantly based on my insights, actionable tips, and helpful self-discovery techniques.

  1. How Creating a Sense of Purpose Can Impact Your Mental Health. Kristen Fuller, Psychology Today[]
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  3. Hopper, T. D., Iwasaki, Y., Walker, G. J., & McHugh, T.-L. F. (2019). “I feel like we finally matter”: The role of youth-led approaches in enhancing leisure-induced meaning-making among at-risk youth. Leisure/Loisir, 43(4), 419–444.[]
  4. Owen, R., Berry, K. & Brown, L. J. E. (2021). ‘I like to feel needed, you know?’: a qualitative examination of sense of purpose in older care home residents. Aging & Mental Health. Published online[]
  5. https://www.kesem.org.il/?lang=en[]
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_threefolding[]
  7. Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science7, 119–128.[]
  8. Van Tongeren, D. R., Green, J. D., Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., & Hulsey, T. L. (2016). Prosociality enhances meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(3), 225–236.[]
  9. How to Tell If You Have Purpose Anxiety, Healthline[]
  10. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/existential-crisis/[]
  11. John Templeton Foundation (2018). The Psychology of Purpose: Claremont Graduate University. https://www.templeton.org/discoveries/the-psychology-of-purpose[]