Depression doesn’t just make you feel tired and unmotivated. It can also affect part of what makes you feel you — your sense of purpose.
Your purpose is unique to you. It’s that overarching goal that pushes you through life’s mundane moments.
You may be driven to help animals in need. Maybe your passion is for coaching children. You might be a professional athlete looking to test your potential.
Your sense of purpose is what drives you and brings you fulfillment. It can also be difficult to connect to it when you’re feeling depressed.
But depression can be treated, and that sense of hopelessness and lack of direction can be managed.
Feeling that you have a sense of purpose can be an important part of your mental well-being.
Research also suggests that you might have a more positive outlook and fewer physical responses during a stressful day when you live with a sense of purpose. It may improve your mood and your ability to manage intense emotions.
In addition to daily benefits, living with intent may help you maintain cognitive function, like memory and decision-making, as you age and may decrease the chances of dementia, according to study data.
Living with depression may mean more than experiencing a lack of purpose as a symptom. Some researchers believe depression is the result of loss of purpose. Here’s how they explain it.
Rather than describing themselves as living with a clinical condition, the participants associated their symptoms directly with a loss of direction in life.
They attributed their depression symptoms to major disturbances to their aspirations for work, relationships, and other factors of life that were meaningful to them.
As their sense of purpose declined, they started to experience formal symptoms of depression, but remained primarily focused on how their dreams and goals were deteriorating.
In other words, participants seemed to think that losing a sense of purpose had caused depression.
The question is, could reconnecting with that sense of purpose improve your depression symptoms? It’s possible. More research on this topic is needed to reach a conclusion.
The causes of depression aren’t yet established. Evidence points to a combination of contributing factors and diminished resources to handle them.
When you live with depression, it can feel as though everything is working against you.
Not only can you feel unmotivated, hopeless, or self-critical, you might not be able to concentrate long enough to focus on what you want to accomplish.
But depression doesn’t have to be permanent. There are ways to get back on track by reconnecting to those things that bring you fulfillment.
These tips may help you find your purpose again, even if you live with depression.
Self-compassion and patience are important
If you live with depression, some of these exercises may be difficult for you. This is a condition that affects your body and brain.
It’s natural and not uncommon to have difficulty finding motivation for even the simplest actions. Consider giving yourself some validation and support, even if you don’t feel like coming up with ideas.
Self-compassion can simply mean not putting yourself down.
Healing is a process, not a sprint. You can do this, and you’ll do it at your pace. And that’s OK.
Identify your sense of purpose
Not everyone can clearly state their sense of purpose — with or without symptoms of depression.
When you know what drives you in life, you can have something specific to work toward. Your purpose might not be the same as someone else’s. It may not even be what it used to be a few months ago.
What satisfies you and brings you inner peace is very unique to you and your current circumstances.
You may want to let go of what you thought was important in the past. Maybe you’ve changed, and that’s OK. Try looking at the meaning of your life with new eyes.
You may also want to resist the urge to add a “but” at the end of your sentences.
It may feel like you don’t have all the resources or opportunities right now. Try not to let that train of thought stop you from setting your goals and life vision.
You can help identify your sense of purpose by asking:
- When do you feel the most fulfilled?
- What brings you the most joy in life?
- What do you admire or celebrate in other people’s lives?
- What accomplishments mean the most to you?
- If you had no responsibilities, what would you choose to do with your day?
- Tell your life story to yourself. What would you like the next chapters to be?
Seek professional guidance
Depression is a diagnosable condition. It can be treated with high success through psychotherapy and medication.
Regaining your sense of purpose may be less challenging when you’re addressing the other symptoms of depression, such as:
- difficulty thinking or making decisions
- loss of energy
- loss of interest in activities
- feelings of worthlessness
Resources for finding professional guidance
- Psych Central’s “How to Find Mental Health Support” page
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline DirectoryTrusted Source
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists
Do something for someone else
If you don’t know where to start to regain your sense of purpose, doing something kind for someone else might be a good first step.
Research suggests that doing something for the benefit of others creates a greater sense of meaningfulness.
Meaningfulness can lead to satisfaction and fulfillment, the very things you’re after when finding your sense of purpose.
Easy ways to do something for someone
- Do a chore for someone without being asked.
- Call and check in on someone.
- Leave a heartfelt note for someone to find.
- Volunteer your time to a local charity.
- Say something nice to a stranger.
Mindfulness is the practice of managing mental flow with intent.
It’s the ability to live in the moment, viewing your thoughts without bias and without fixation.
A study evaluating how mindfulness practices impact a sense of purpose found that people who practice it tend to build purpose statements with a greater sense of clarity, focus, and authenticity.
Mindfulness can be practiced in a number of ways, including as a form of meditation.
Simple way to practice mindfulness toward a purpose
You may want to consider these steps:
- After waking up, sit in a relaxed position. Close your eyes and focus on the sensations of your body.
- Take 3 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue breathing in a controlled pattern, focusing on the breath itself.
- Ask yourself what your daily goal is. This doesn’t have to be a big goal. It could be to complete 3 daily tasks.
- Affirm what your goal is. Tell yourself: “I will do this.”
- Stop regularly during your day to take a moment, breathe, and reaffirm your goal.
As you become more familiar with the exercise, try to include bigger goals that relate to the meaning of your life.
Heal your relationships
When you live with depression, you may find socializing challenging. This could lead to relationship strain or distancing.
Sometimes the people you care about don’t understand what you’re going through and may distance themselves.
Research suggests keeping your supportive relationships intact could be directly related to maintaining a sense of purpose.
How to fortify your relationships when you live with depression
Educating your loved ones about depression can go a long way toward maintaining relationships.
Instead of cutting you off because they think you’re avoiding them, your loved ones can understand your actions aren’t meant to deliberately hurt them.
Living with depression can mean also experiencing a loss of purpose.
Like most lost things, however, your purpose can be found again. It’s not gone forever — depression has just hidden it behind a curtain.
You can start pulling back that curtain with self-care strategies and professional depression treatment.
When the symptoms of depression aren’t holding you in place anymore, you can rediscover the things in life that bring you fulfillment.
You can reclaim your sense of purpose. After all, it is still yours to claim.