How does purpose influence your wellbeing?

August 27 2014 / by Mari Ryan

What is the first question people often ask when you first meet?
It is usually – “what do you do”? PurposeWellbeingIf you are like me, you respond by describing your work. You spend the majority of your waking hours doing something you consider, a career, vocation, occupation or job.  Perhaps a better question is: “How do you feel about what you do?” If you find what you do to be enjoyable and filled with meaning you, are likely to be thriving in the well-being dimension of Purpose.



When you think of your overall well-being, purpose is probably not the first item on your list. Yet research is starting to show this may be the most important of all the elements of well-being. If you don’t spend the majority of your day doing something you enjoy, the odds of having high well-being in other dimensions diminishes rapidly. 

Think about it. Imagine you have a great circle of friends and family, you are secure financially and in good health – but you don’t like what you do each day for work or you have a toxic boss. Chances are, much of your social time is spent worrying or complaining about how unhappy you are in your endeavor. This causes stress, which takes a toll on your physical health. If you don’t have a purpose, you can see how this can deteriorate the other areas of your life. Purpose in life can have a positive effect on longevity, disease and even DNA repair.[i]


At Work

Employee well-being has many dimensions, and purpose is a very importan one. Discovering or improving your area of purpose can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.   A Gallup poll conducted in 2008 discovered participants who were actively disengaged in their work were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression over the next year. As workers became more engaged, their physical health improved. Employees who find meaning and purpose in their workplace have, on average, lower absenteeism and higher motivation than those who do not. [ii]



Graduating college students with a sense of purpose, two years after graduation had less physical and mental health problems than those with more self-enhancing goals. [iii]

Here is the kicker. Purpose is not always one single, big thing or something with world-changing impact. Research shows one important aspect of purpose can be as simple as knowing your strengths and making an effort to use them each day. Or it could mean sharing time with others who share similar goals or finding a way to share your gifts with those around you.

So you don’t have to make it big or complicated, but you should make some effort, to discover and nurture your own wonderful, individual purpose. Having a purpose and utilizing it can make every day more enjoyable and focused.

View other articles in the Well-being at Work series: what is well-being, money wellbeing.


[i] Davis, H. Successful aging: The positive side of aging, Los Angeles Daily News. February 24, 2104. Available at:

[ii] Rath, T. Harter, J. (2010). Well Being The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallop Press.

[iii] Niemiec, C. Ryan. R., Deci, E. The path taken: consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. J Res Personal , vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 291-306, 2009


Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.