With the recent onslaught of superhero movies and television shows, you may have been tricked into believing that the purpose of your life was to be the world’s savior. You may dream of having superpowers, defeating a charismatic villain, and saving the day. I hate to tell you this but your dream will never be anything more than that.

But that doesn’t mean your life doesn’t have a purpose. It does. It’s just not what society and popular media have lead you to believe.

The purpose of your life has two parts

  • Increase the well-being of yourself.
  • Increase the well-being of people around you.

What’s well-being?

Well-being is a fuzzy concept and it depends on the context in which you live. It’s difficult to define directly and is best explored with some simple examples.

  • If you are perfectly healthy and then get a diagnosis for terminal cancer, your well-being has decreased.
  • If there is an economic downturn and you suddenly find yourself without a job or a home to live in, your well-being has decreased.
  • All things being equal, people who are free to spend their time doing things that they are passionate about have a higher well-being than folks who work 60 hours a week at a job they hate.
  • In general, people who regularly get enough sleep and eat at regular times have a higher well-being than those who don’t.

Simple ways to increase your well-being

Get enough sleep.

When you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to have negative moods and decreased impulse control. You also suffer from a decline in cognitive abilities and short-term memory. This negatively impacts your work, art, and home-life.

Go too long without sleep and you may find yourself drenching a dozen jelly-filled donuts with chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles. But at least you won’t remember it!

Stop eating sweets and sugary drinks.

There’s a mountain of evidence that suggests that consuming high amounts of processed sugar causes large spikes and dips in your blood sugar, which negatively impacts your mood. It’s also the fastest way to gain weight.

People who fail to manage blood sugar levels long-term end up with type-two diabetes and may face kidney failure, lost eyesight, and limb amputation.

Do some moderate exercise every day.

Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to track your steps. Nearly all adults in the United States have a smartphone that will track their steps. So start paying attention to the number of steps you walk each day. Set a goal to walk at least as many steps as your daily average of steps. Over time the daily average will grow.

If you’re already doing this you can step things up a (pun intended!) with vigorous exercise. Aim to be out of breath for at least 10 minutes today.

Limit screen time and online activities.

Screen time has a way of crowding out other important activities that are essential to your well-being. So look at the amount of time you spend with your face glued to a screen. Spend time going outside, socializing with people in real life, or working towards one of your long-term goals.

Also, consider going one day a week without screens. Or go screen-free for at least 12 hours a day i.e. 7 PM to 7 AM.

Have less stuff.

The accumulation and management of stuff can take up valuable time, time that could be used to make your life better. Cars and boats need to be maintained, computers and phones and tablets need upgrades and maintenance, and your house needs to be cleaned and vacuumed and maintained. Improve your life by limiting your stuff. Watch George Carlin Talk About “Stuff”

Pay less attention to things you cannot control.

There is a long list things are you pay attention to but have no control over. Things include what’s going on the news, reality television, and workplace gossip. Limit the amount of time you spend on things you can’t control.

For example, Donald Trump is in the news every single day. Every day he’s done something, said something, or something from his past has bubbled up into our collective consciousness. We feel like we all need to discuss it ad nauseam. I try to limit the amount of time I spend reading and discussing Donald Trump. I have no control over what he does or says so I try not to let him occupy too much of my day.

Work towards a long-term goal.

You have an existential need to learn, grow, and become better. Whether it’s starting a hobby, learning a new language, or acquiring a new skill-set, embarking on an endeavor that will stretch you will increase your well-being.

Be mindful of your limits.

You have limited time today. You have limited energy today. Be mindful of this and don’t commit to do more things than is reasonable.

Simple ways to increase the well-being of the people around you

Help them get enough sleep.

Give your children reasonable bedtimes, don’t email or message people at work after hours, and make it easy for your partner to get the sleep they need.

Help them to not eat sweets and sugary drinks.

This one’s a little bit tricky because every adult is responsible for what they put into their body. But at the very least you can stop buying sweets and soda, so they’re less accessible at home. You can stop bringing boxes of donuts to company meetings and instead bring something healthy.

Help them do some moderate exercise every day.

This one’s also tricky because adults are responsible for their own exercise. One thing you can do is tell people that you track your steps and be a good example. (Just don’t be an asshole about this!) To get your steps for the day, you may go on a long walk or several short ones, and you can invite people to join with you.

Help them limit screen time and online activities.

My wife and I set some hard limits on screen time for our kids and look for opportunities to send them outside and play. With other family members, I look for ways to interact with them in real life or talk to them on the phone when I can’t see them in person.

Help them have less stuff.

My wife and I periodically sit with our kids and go through their clothes, toys, and school papers. We make two piles, one called Kick it!, and the other one is called Keep it. With school papers I let my kids go through each one and decide what pile it goes in. Same with toys. With clothes, we get rid of the ones they don’t fit anymore which makes room in their drawers for new clothes.

When dealing with adults I try hard not to buy them knickknacks, clothes they won’t wear, and other useless junk. Instead, I like to give them things that can be eaten or pay for experiences.

Help them pay less attention to things you cannot control.

In my house, there’s no concept of television with commercials. We don’t have a TV antenna, cable TV, nor satellite TV. Everything we watch comes from Netflix, Amazon, or my home media server. Not watching commercials means I pay attention to fewer things that don’t matter.

Help them work towards a long-term goal.

Whenever my kids are interested in learning about something I show them YouTube videos related to that and find library books for them. Right now my seven-year-old son is super interested in Minecraft. So I showed him how to request books from the county library system. To date, he’s requested and checked out 30 books about Minecraft. (Who knew this many Minecraft books even existed?)

You can also help other people work towards long-term goals by being a mentor and help them acquire the skills that you already have.

Be mindful of their limits.

Before you ask somebody to do something ask yourself, “Is this reasonable? Do they have too much on their plate already?” This is especially important at home with your partner and kids.

Conclusion

The purpose of your life has two parts

  • Increase the well-being of yourself.
  • Increase the well-being of people around you.

There’s a myriad of ways that you can increase your well-being and the well-being of the people around you. Pick one thing and get to work. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I can’t do it all, therefore, I won’t do anything.” This is just a trick your mind plays to make you feel good about not doing anything.

Select one way to make your life better, or someone else’s life better, and move forward.

Be well, my friend.

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