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Secret to a Long, Happy Life? Live with Purpose

Oct 21 2021
By Laura Roe Stevens
7 min read
Woman looking up at sun shining through trees.

When we find a sense of meaning in our daily life, we become more resilient, motivated, and better able to tackle obstacles.

Exercise, healthy eating, balance between work and play, mindfulness, and time in nature are all ingredients championed by experts to help us live healthier and happier lives. Studies now reveal, however, that when we live with purpose, our lives become more fulfilling, and we live longer and with less risk for disease. For instance, a research study that tracked physical activity of 14,000 Americans over a period of four years proved that purposeful living is linked with motivation to exercise; incorporating movement lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, diminishes rates of Alzheimer's, and reduces inflammation, thereby decreasing risk for most chronic diseases.

So how do you find your purpose?

Experts say one key is to differentiate between purpose and mission, or the activity, vocation, or work you’re drawn to. Why is this important? Because purpose is attached to meaning and flows within all areas of our life. It’s not reliant on being expressed in a certain activity or type of work; nor does it involve controlling circumstances or meeting certain goals. While goal-setting is motivational and inspiring, one specific goal rarely reflects a person’s life purpose. For instance, training for a marathon and running within a certain speed can be a fun goal. Making partner in a firm by the age of 45, can be a motivating intention. Neither reflect a deep meaning for your existence. Plus, if these goals are not met, a person can feel anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. A life’s purpose will not cause anxiety and will be something to continue to grow within throughout a lifespan.

“It’s important to know the difference between purpose and mission. Purpose is shared among our species and involves growth, a commitment to a path of development, becoming who one is and being connected to the world. This growth into one’s potential is a growth into greater compassion. My mission is unique however; mine is to help people connect to their true self,” says Teresa Cowan Jones, MDiv, spiritual wellness provider at Canyon Ranch.

“My purpose flows within all moments and areas of my life, and in challenging or mundane times. Instead of trying to meet specific goals, I ask myself: Am I speaking with love? Am I growing with love? Do I listen with love? Am I present and patient? Am I being loving to myself? I can find meaning by smiling at a neighbor or helping someone I encounter. I am grateful for these opportunities and for my life, no matter what is happening or may not be happening,” she adds.

Teresa admits that before she defined her life’s purpose, she used to live with anxiety. Now, she experiences greater gratitude and ease in each day. She says she feels freer to flow from one moment to the next, recognizing that within each there may be an opportunity to give back in ways that reflect her sense of purpose.

So how do you determine your purpose in life?

First and foremost, purpose should always feel good when you think about it and not make you anxious, says Teresa. “Purpose will lower anxiety. When I wrote my purpose out, and followed my own advice, it decreased my anxiety by giving me an anchor and a compass. Because no matter what is going on around me, life situations, or out-of-our-control world violence, for instance, I can direct my intention, focus, and attention, which is comforting,” she explains.

Secondly, your purpose will not overload your schedule by piling on stressful demands that create a frenetic existence. Teresa has worked with people whose lives became out of balance due to overwork and saying yes to too many demands that seemed in alignment with their goals, but ultimately created high levels of stress and less time for family and loved ones. A life’s purpose will always enhance, not detract, from our lives.

“Living my purpose has helped me plan my day and pay close attention to how I can live it out through the day’s planned activities, while empowering me to say no to what will detract from my purpose. I’m not going to let myself get split in a million ways. It is unloving to say yes to everything. We have to feel the right to our purpose: it’s a human right, and it’s okay that I focus my attention in one way and stay whole. Plus, when I know my purpose, if someone asks something of me that isn’t in alignment with it, it’s easier to say no.”

Finally, a purpose will help us stay connected to our fuel source within. It is always invigorating, excites us, and helps us to feel part of a greater, or collective path.

Below are questions and reflection points to help with the search for your life’s purpose:


  • What gives life deepest meaning, coherence, wholeness?
  • Do you detect a pattern, a thread, that runs through yourself or life that creates meaning for you and enlivens, or encourages you?
  • Who are you?
  • What are your core values?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What brings you joy? What do you love?
  • What gifts do you have to offer the world?
  • What makes you come alive?


  • Follow your passion and volunteer.
  • Get and give support to colleagues.
  • Increase your social connections. Explore the world’s wisdom traditions/religions.
  • Find ways to use and offer your expertise/skills.
  • Practice generosity of time, talent, or treasure.


  • Use it as a decision-making tool regarding what you say “yes” and “no” to.
  • Remember and voice it each morning aloud to integrate it into your life and allow it to focus your day.
  • Visualize yourself, each morning, living it out through the planned activities of the day.
  • Wed your purpose to mindful living.
Headshot of Teresa Cowan Jones, MDiv at Canyon Ranch Tucson

About the Expert

Headshot of Teresa Cowan Jones, MDiv at Canyon Ranch Tucson

Teresa Cowan Jones

MDiv, Director of Spiritual Wellness

Through one-on-one discussions and group lectures, Teresa helps guests connect with their inner selves as a resource for relating to the world. She guides them through matters of meaning, identity, and purpose in a way that honors both spiritual development and scientific research, so they can find paths to peace and fulfillment.