This is part of my series on Mental Models to Understand Yourself

The recent onslaught of superhero movies may have tricked you into believing that the purpose of your life is to be the world’s savior. Maybe you dream of having superpowers, defeating a charismatic villain, and saving the day. Or perhaps your fantasy involves running through life wearing tights and a cape.

The truth is that you’re not a superhero. And never will be. (Donning neon tights and a glittering cape is always an option!)

But that doesn’t mean your life lacks 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:

  1. Increase the well-being of yourself.
  2. Increase the well-being of the people around you.

So, what’s well-being?

Well-being refers to how well you are. It’s affected by your physical health, mental health, feelings of safety and security, the quality of relationships, and progress toward existential goals.

Let’s look at each of these:

  • Physical health — If you are perfectly healthy and then get a diagnosis for terminal cancer, your well-being has decreased.
  • Mental health — If you battle depression, you have lower well-being than folks who don’t.
  • Feelings of safety and security — 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.
  • Quality of relationships — If your best friend stops talking to you, your well-being has decreased.
  • Progress toward existential goals — If you dream of being a writer but cannot find the time to write, your well-being is lower than if you made progress toward your goal.

In a nutshell, increasing the well-being of yourself and others is about meeting your basic needs and theirs.

It’s a balancing act: sometimes you need to stay late at work, so you don’t lose your job, which means you don’t exercise, spend time with family, or work toward longterm goals. Other times you elect not to stay late so you can do other important things.

This balance also extends to the question of helping yourself versus helping others. Sometimes you do things to improve your well-being and ignore what others need. Everyone makes these tradeoffs. There’s no shame in telling people, No, some of the time. I recommend spending two hours a day on stuff solely for you.

Other times you focus on what other people need. You make time for them, validate them, and help them meet their needs. They benefit from this, obviously, but you do, too, because you need to be needed. Part of your well-being hinges on you, helping others.

So, there you have it. The purpose of your life is to improve the well-being of yourself and other humans. Well-being encompasses many areas, including physical health, mental health, safety and security, relationships, and existential goals. Find a balance between what you need and what others need. And life will be amazing.