We hear a lot about “life purpose” these days—how we don’t have enough of it and why we need more.
Indeed, having a sense of purpose in life can give us a greater sense of social connection and well-being both at work and at home. But what exactly is purpose? How do we pursue it effectively if we’re not, say, a hero in a Disney movie on an epic quest? And what aspects of our lives can we expect to change when we do?
These important questions are often unanswered, leaving us with little understanding of what, exactly, we can do to cultivate purpose.
So, what are the ways we can seek purpose? Recent research shows that each of us rely on our own purpose-seeking style—or more likely, a combination of styles. Just like we all have a specific style of dancing (or, for some, our own unique way to flail to Justin Bieber’s “Despacito”), we all try to find purpose in our days in individually unique ways, too.
But some purpose-seeking styles are more effective than others. By finding which styles we rely on, we can better understand why we have, or have not, been able to gain a sense of purpose.
Curious to know which purpose-seeking styles you’ve been using? Read on to find out.
Style #1: Prosocial (aka Kindness)
To be more prosocial, you could get involved with a community service group, help others who are struggling or join a program to clean up the environment.
With the prosocial style, a sense of purpose can develop when you realize that you’re providing something to help the next generation, that you continue to grow and improve as a human being, and that you are living a life of integrity. You find a greater sense of purpose through your positive interactions with others.
Style #2: Achievement
When we are successful in the ways that our culture supports, we can feel like leaders, which leads to a greater sense of purpose.
To seek purpose though achievement, you could start that side hustle or take on a leadership role at work.
One caution: Although achievement can provide a sense of purpose in the short term, this style doesn’t appear to contribute to long-term improvements in well-being in the same way that the prosocial style does. You might feel amazing when you achieve something great, but those amazing feelings likely won’t last all that long.
Style #3: Creative
When we create something, we get the sense that we have generated something for future generations to enjoy.
For example, you could take photographs, join a performance group, write a short story—anything that would live on indefinitely.
The creative style can help us gain greater cultural awareness, perhaps helping us to feel more connected to others who are different than us and giving us a greater sense of well-being.
Style #4: Expertise (aka Knowledge)
We can feel great purpose when we excel in our chosen fields and provide insights that didn’t previously exist.
To seek purpose through expertise, you could strive to become an expert in your field, make unique contributions to your industry or try to win a prestigious award for your work.
This style can help us feel like we are knowledgeable leaders, which feels good. But keep in mind that this style is less likely to contribute to our long-term well-being than either the prosocial style or the creative style.
So, what’s your style?
While reading about the styles, you probably identified at least one style—or maybe several—that you have used in your life.
Take a moment now to ask yourself these questions about your style:
- Does this approach give you a greater sense of purpose in the short run?
- How about in the long run?
Evidence suggests that any of these purpose styles can temporarily boost your sense of purpose, but the prosocial style has the greatest impact on happiness and well-being in the long run.
If you’re still struggling to find a sense of purpose, try shifting to a more prosocial style or try another style on for size. Soon, you’ll hopefully start having more of those warm, fuzzy feelings that come from a sense of purpose.
Read next: How We Win When We Fail Big on Purpose
This post originally appeared on Shine, a free daily text to help you thrive.