Birthday Reflections: How to Find Your Purpose In Life and How Discovering Your Purpose Helps You Live Longer and Heal Disease

Adrienne Nolan-Smith, patient advocate, wellness speaker, wellness expert and the founder of WellBe

I just celebrated my birthday, and as I’ve been doing the past few years, I’m using the milestone as an opportunity for some birthday reflections and a chance to revisit my purpose in life and make sure I’m actually living it day-to-day. It’s one thing to be able to say something lofty about what you’re here on earth to do, it’s another to make sure your actions each day actually reflect that purpose statement. 

If the idea of discovering your purpose in life is terrifying and daunting, you should know that there are two major physical health benefits to doing so: research (which I’ll get into below) shows that people who can find their purpose in life live longer and overcome life-threatening diseases more than people who can’t or haven’t. 

Discovering your purpose can also make you feel happier and more excited to get out of bed each morning. But since I’m a holistic patient advocate dedicated to health empowerment, the longevity bump and disease-healing benefits that come from discovering your purpose are a huge driving factor for me to go deep and figure out exactly what my purpose is and then make sure my daily actions reflect that purpose. 

One of my favorite research studies is The Blue Zones, a National Geographic project that examined the five hot spots of longevity throughout the world and identified the similarities that helped people live to over 100 with little to no chronic health issues. One of the things the Blue Zones researchers found was that this concept of knowing your purpose or knowing why you wake up in the morning is an integral part of most Blue Zone cultures (some cultures even have their own word or phrase for it: Okinawans call it ikigai and Nicoyans in Costa Rica call it plan de vida). 

Another study found that discovering your purpose added up to 7 years to a person’s life, and reduced the risk of death by 15%, controlling for other factors like age, gender, and emotional wellbeing.

Not Discovering Your Purpose in Life Leads to Chronic Stress

So why is this? A lot of research has shown that stress causes chronic inflammation in the body, and chronic inflammation in the body leads to chronic disease, and chronic disease is generally the root of premature death (accidents aside!).

When you don’t know your purpose or why you’re getting up every day and what the point of your life is, it’s likely you’ll experience continuous stress. Think about it: it’s pretty stressful to be always searching and worrying about whether you’re doing the right thing, or what you should be doing, and how you should be living.

Another incredible research example relating to the link between having a sense of purpose and physical health is The Radical Remission Project, a research project out of UC Berkeley that analyzed over 1500 cases of radical remission (which is a cancer remission that occurs either without conventional medical treatment, after conventional treatment has failed to work, or when conventional and complementary methods are used in conjunction to overcome a dire prognosis). They were able to isolate 10 factors that those who experienced radical remission had in common, and one of the ten was “having a strong reason for living”.

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

Ok so now you know that discovering your purpose is a vital part of a healthy, long life — but it’s still not an easy task.

There are a few different resources aimed at helping you find your life’s purpose, but I want to share one from a book I read called How Will You Measure Your Life by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. Christensen was known for applying business theories to the arduous yet crucial task of achieving fulfillment in your career, relationships, hobbies — in other words, your life.

When I first read the book in 2018, I realized that I had set goals and milestones for my business, but hadn’t given my own body, health, and life the same level of attention and commitment. This seemed like a massive oversight to me, given the fact that my life is…well, everything. So, I decided to use the exercise in his book to guide my birthday reflections that year.

Finding your purpose in life is, of course, very complicated and personal, but I found the exercise in the back of Christensen’s book quite helpful. The exercise is aimed at finding your purpose and then ensuring that at least some of your time and activities each day tie back to it. He recommended the following three-step process for discovering your purpose:

1) Find your likeness. Ask yourself, what would you like to be like? How would you define your ideal you? Answer this question for today, and then in the future. What would the ideal you look like in 10, 20, 30, 40 years?

2) Make commitments. What actionable commitments do you need to make to achieve your ideal likeness? Make those commitments, and have them drive what you will and won’t do each day.

3) Define metrics. Define success and the metric(s) by which to measure it. Make sure these are concrete and measurable, otherwise they’re easy to not use.

Now, while I think this exercise was helpful, it might be too much for some people, especially if this is the first time you’re really thinking deeply about defining your purpose. If you complete the exercise and write down a bunch of things, but feel like you’ll never remember what you wrote — let alone live by it — then you may want to try something a little more simple.

This simplicity is important. Blue Zones research shows that those who could articulate a purpose easily had the most health benefits, and that makes sense right? If you’ve truly discovered your purpose, you don’t need to look at a piece of paper with a long list of things to be able to tell someone what it is. Ideally, you can get it into a sentence or two and memorize it. Even more ideally, you don’t even need to memorize it, because it’s so obvious once you discover and define it. 

Most importantly, when you say it, it should make you feel warm and at peace, and maybe even smile. If you feel anxiety or like a fraud saying it, it’s likely that what you wrote down is what you want your purpose to be, but it’s not your true purpose. If you feel anxious or like an imposter when you articulate your purpose, it could also mean that you’ve discovered your true life purpose, but you know you’re not living it.

When I first did the exercise in Clayton Christensen’s book, what I wrote was long and heartwarming, but I never looked at it again. So now I recommend doing the whole exercise in his book to get the creative juices flowing, but then breaking it down to make it much simpler and shorter. Statements like, “be a great mother” or “make the planet a cleaner place” or “capture the world’s beauty in my art” or “create peace in my community,” are all simple purpose statements you can easily remember. 

What felt more helpful and less abstract in discovering my purpose was to define my strong reason or reasons for living. Whatever that reason is or reasons are could be considered a purpose.  I’ll share with you what I came up with. When I wake up everyday, I have:

  • A young son (and another on the way!) who depends on me for survival
  • A partner who needs my love, support and help
  • Siblings and friends who also need my love and support 
  • Private clients and a community at WellBe asking for my help, guidance and insight with living holistically and healing chronic health issues 
  • Besides all the people and relationships in my life, I have a strong desire to see the world and all its different cultures and natural beauty. And since there are many places I have yet to see and experience, I consider this strong desire a strong reason to keep living so I can get out there and see and do it all!

Breaking mine down to an even simpler version: My strong reasons for living are my friends, family, my WellBe community and work, and seeing the world. 

An important part of doing this exercise and creating your simple purpose statement is making sure that saying the statement feels good, but don’t try to conform your purpose to standards of what you think it should be. Once you’ve said it a few times and it feels good and authentic (and easy to remember and repeat!), accept and love your unique reason or set of reasons for living. It does not matter how they sound in the context of society or culture or what’s expected of you or what you think your purpose should be. It only matters that it feels real.

I encourage you to try this purpose exercise on your next birthday, or…right now! There’s no time like the present. Whenever you do it, share your results in the comments below, I would absolutely love to hear what your purpose or strong reason for living is now that you’ve read mine!


                                                      Here’s to birthday reflections and discovering your purpose,


                                                                                                                                             xx Adrienne


Listen to Adrienne talk about her birthday reflections on The getWellBe Podcast.



  1. Radler, B. The Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) Series: A National Longitudinal Study of Health and Well-being. Open Health Data. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Dec 31.
  2. Buettner, D. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Sep-Oct; 10(5): 318–321.



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  1. So thankful I found your podcast and website. Your passion and mission align with mine – I first heard you on a podcast last week discussing the difference between functional medicine and integrative Medicine.  
    I am working on finishing my masters In counseling but hope to transition into my purpose to help others heal and thrive physically and mentally ! Thanks for your content and passion . I look forward to meeting you along this journey ! 

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks so much and I look forward to meeting you! Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter if you haven’t already, here and good luck with your Masters! XX Adrienne & Team WellBe

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