When people ask about their purpose, they often want a "greater" meaning or "higher" purpose in life. But what do they mean by this? Greater/Higher than what? Does this mean a divine meaning? And, if this exists, what is it for you, and is it the same for everyone? Well, while this sounds like an impossible question, it's actually fairly simple with a very straightforward answer. Unlike unanswerable questions like whether God exists, this does have an answer that can be logically derived. Let's take a look in this post; it'll seem so obvious by the end that you might kick yourself for not knowing the answer.
First, let's start with the purpose of all living organisms: growth. The goal of all life on Earth is growth. It’s the reason why any living organism exists, it's how scientists define life, and it's how humans judge the significance of their own lives and the lives of public figures. The more growth that you attain or enable in yourself and others, the more/higher/greater purpose you feel.
Given that simple, straightforward definition, then "higher" purpose or "greater" meaning can simply be defined as purpose or meaning beyond oneself—in essence, helping others grow as well as yourself. Yes, that it literally it. People who have a higher spiritual purpose devote themselves to grow their relationship with God, and people who have a higher purpose to help others will devote their lives to service. Many might have a "calling" where they spend their lives developing a skill set, such as a musical ability or medical skills, and using those skills to enrich or enhance others' lives. When you identify how you can best live your life while making others' lives better in the process, you'll have found a purpose beyond yourself and will feel the associated satisfaction that people looking for greater meaning seek to attain.
Like I said, understanding higher purpose or greater meaning is pretty easy. The harder question is how you find yours. Is this something you figure out with spiritual guidance, something you find within, or something you decide for yourself? Well, you have the option of taking any of these paths to finding higher purpose. Let's break down how this can work and how you'll know.
Readers of The Meaning of Life will know that there are eight components that determine your sense of meaning and purpose in life: growth, experience, desire, belief, emotions, ethics, support, choice. The only thing that changes/differs in any individual’s purpose/goals are these eight components. For example, one person might want to grow financially by building a business and employing thousands of people, while another person might want to grow by starting a family and fostering its growth. In any growth journey, you grow in areas you want to focus on and believe you can, you can only grow through experience, and you feel fulfilled when you focus on the right areas. You do things in the right way, you get/provide help along the way, and you make life choices that determine your destiny.
For higher meaning, you need certain things to be true about these eight concepts:
Again, this might seem obvious now that you've thought about it. Higher purpose is just purpose beyond yourself, and you identify it when you find a goal that you really want and believe in. When you choose to seek out experiences that will help you attain your goal, pursue them ethically, and get help, you'll feel fulfilled. If this is all obvious, then what might people be missing? Well, the only question left is which growth area is best for you—i.e., "What is my calling, anyway?" In other words, people don't want to know whether there is a higher purpose as much as they want to know what theirs is if there is such a thing. That's the real question.
Unfortunately, that's where this blog post ends in its prescriptive guidance. Honestly, what you define as your higher or greater purpose is for you to decide for yourself because it will be different from others. The most obvious candidate for you is service to others. Service to others has direct, measurable impact, so you know you're having impact beyond yourself and, therefore, will like never have to ask yourself whether your life has any meaning at all (unless you're feeling down and belittle your own contribution). Others might include pursuing spiritual growth that gets you in touch with your higher power since you'll feel a greater significance in those activities or being part of a group with a shared cause since you'll feel part of something much bigger than yourself. Still others who are more individualists but want greater meaning might find a higher purpose in creating something amazing that many people will enjoy, such as music, art, entertainment, or an invention. Any of these could be right for you, or it could be something completely different. The choice is yours.
That said, I've given you the tools in this post to figure out how to find it as well as how to know you've found it. If you've found your purpose, you'll want to spend a lot of time doing it. If you've found your purpose, you'll believe in it. If you've found your purpose, it'll feel right (note: not pleasure, but fulfillment). If you've found your purpose, you'll want to choose it. If you believe in it, you'll accept help in fulfilling it. You'll seek experiences that help you progress. In any greater meaning or higher purpose you could think of, all eight components are "maxed out" so that you are most likely to realize it.
If you're still lost, identify a list of potential growth areas (e.g., physical, social, relationship, familial, monetary, spiritual). Any of these can be the basis of a higher purpose, but most people will say that the highest purpose is one of the growth areas that involve others: spiritual, social, relationship, familial, communal (i.e., service to others). Why? Because those are the causes that are most clearly “greater than yourself” by nature, and therefore most clearly constitute a “greater” or “higher” purpose.
For me to be the best, most objective advisor that I can be for you, I choose not to create a hierarchy out of growth areas but rather assume that you will have your own priorities and that many or all of them could be important to you. If you want a goal in life that will feel meaningful, seek satisfying growth opportunities (note: only you can determine whether growth in an area is satisfying). If you want a “higher” purpose, seek a growth area that also enables the growth of others or makes you feel part of a greater cause or whole (note: the greater whole could be a community, humanity, life, the universe, God, etc.—you decide this, too).
I hope this helps, as it really is this simple (not easy, but simple). But I'll leave you with one final note about higher purpose that will keep you from struggling on your journey: greater meaning or higher purpose does not necessarily require sacrifice. Yes, a purpose requires time investment and tradeoffs with other things you could be doing, but it doesn't necessarily require that you sacrifice something completely. For example, you do not have to live in poverty to be spiritual. You do not have to choose between having children and having a career. You do not have to choose between helping others and taking care of yourself.
Yes, there are tradeoffs: the best athletes in the world can't spend as much time in other pursuits and have to have a certain diet and exercise regimen to be the best. But don’t assume that intentionally taking a dive in one area makes you better in another—it doesn’t. It just makes you worse off and no one else better off. Make deliberate tradeoffs, but don’t sabotage yourself thinking it’ll bring you to another level in other areas.
So, there you have it: there is a higher purpose if you choose to pursue growth areas that have the positive impact on others that you would deem to be fulfilling, and you have to have strong desire, belief, ethics, and support to truly realize it. Go find it, and you will feel fulfilled. But don't worry if you change your direction or don't feel the need for a higher purpose because there's no requirement to have one or to keep it forever. The goal is growth and the resulting happiness and fulfillment, so as long as you're pursuing those, you're on the right track.