Do you know what your true purpose in life is yet? 4 tools to help you find out

10/01/2022 | Santander Universidades

Imagine you're in a therapy session and they ask you why you don't kill yourself. That is the shocking question posed to his patients by Dr. V. Frankl, a renowned neurologist, psychiatrist and philosopher who survived various Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau. In fact, it was based on his own experiences that he wrote the book Man's Search for Meaning, in which he began his focus on finding one's purpose in life. 

Happiness is a goal we all chase in one way or another, but do we know what we really mean when we talk about achieving happiness? The search for purpose in our lives is what underpins it. And just as Mark Twain said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why".

Here, we explain what a sense of purpose in life is and some of the main tools available to help you discover yours.

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What is meant by purpose in life?

Philosophy -known as the mother of all disciplines- has spent years trying to answer what exactly having purpose in life means, through knowledge and reflection. Hence the myriad writers and thinkers who have approached the question from various angles.

According to Tony Hsieh, a sense of purpose in life is one of the three types of happiness, together with pleasure and passion. However, the author stresses that having a purpose in life is the most important element of the 3 because it takes daily effort. 

What it boils down to is that having a purpose in life is the reason for our existence, the thing that gives meaning to what we do and serves as the moral and motivational compass to our actions, decisions and sacrifices. In short: it is our reason for being.

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How can you build purpose in your life?

Studies conducted by the University of California have shown that people who have a defined purpose in life find more meaning in what they do, enjoy better health and live longer.

While it's common to talk about finding one’s purpose in life, it isn't actually something we 'find', but rather, something we work on and build. So, below we’d like to introduce you to 4 tools from different fields, cultures and times that can be used to help identify your reason for being.

Ikigai (生き甲斐) 

There is no literal translation for this Japanese concept, whose origins lie in the island of Okinawa (“iki” = life and “gai” = that is worth it”) and date to over 1,000 years ago, although it is still just as relevant today. 

Ikigai, the Japanese secret to finding your purpose, aims to identify happiness from experiences or the reason to get up in the mornings. It explores four key areas of the individual and is the result of combining:

  • What you love: your passion
  • What the world needs: your mission
  • What you're good at: your talent
  • What you can be paid for: your profession

PIL Test 

The Purpose in Life Test (PIL) is one of the most commonly used tests to determine how purposeful a person deems their life to be and evaluate their motivation through 20 questions on a scale of 1 to 7 and in relation to four main areas:

  • Perception of life and motivation
  • Perception of positive life experiences
  • Goals and personal responsibility for these
  • Attitude to death

Although this is not strictly a tool to help you work on or achieve your purpose in life, it is a positive first step to identifying where you're starting from, enabling you to make progress and work towards finding a sense of meaning.


Through mentoring, professionals from various fields can help you -from their differing perspectives and as specialists- to find your purpose in life through career growth and motivation, emotional management and development, and with internal insight exercises.


Tal Ben Shahar, a Harvard Professor known for his studies into human happiness, states that being happy is something we work on and learn: "A happy person can enjoy positive emotions, if he or she experiences life as something meaningful".

One of the ideas Shahar emphasises is that being happy doesn't mean always being content but rather, being able to deal with sadness or frustration without losing sight of your purpose. To this end, decision-making, emotional intelligence, and resilience are a few of the skills that, according to the expert, help us to be happier. 

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Experiment, train and learn

As you can see, fulfilling your purpose in life and being happy are not innate or inherent to humans, although wondering about it is. That’s why everyone needs to focus on and undertake personal growth.

To make a sense of purpose in life a reality, it's vital that you know yourself. For this, it’s a great idea to identify your strengths and weaknesses using a SWOT analysis, one of the key tools -together with lifelong learning- that will help you to make further progress.

Continual updating your knowledge and toolset is crucial to being able to grow at both a personal and professional level. Whether you've already got a job or are thinking about setting up a company of your own, identifying your purpose will help you. 

Enhancing your innate professional skills and improving those you lack through training will prove crucial if you are to increase your chances of realising your career goals. So that you can develop your professional skills, Banco Santander, as part of its contribution to society, is spearheading the Santander Open Academy, through which it offers the chance to train at the hand of prestigious institutions.

To achieve this aim, it focuses on retraining and continuing education, key concepts to accelerate your career growth through lifelong learning in progressive subjects such as technology, languages, studies, research, soft skills, practice and female leadership.

If you'd like access to a range of training programmes to give you a cutting edge on the job market, check out the Santander Open Academy website and develop the skills your CV needs to stand out and achieve your career goals. This is your chance!

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