10 Tiny Ways to Find Purpose and Happiness in Life

By Nicole Caldwell of Better Farm

Originally published at Martha Stewart

Think of all the excuses you have for not changing your life. Now wad them up and throw them into the compost pile out back. Research shows that having a sense of purpose improves overall wellness, prevents depression and may even extend life expectancy. Here’s a cheat sheet of 10 easy ways to find your purpose, encourage whimsy, and live cleaner and happier than ever before.

In Okinawan culture, ikigai is a word that means “a reason for being.” Your ikigai is your sense of purpose in the world: the reason you get up in the morning. It's the glitter and gusto that sent the genius Albert Einstein on his way, forced Stanley Kubrick to create great films, and encouraged Jimi Hendrix to master the electric guitar. To find your own ikigai, you need to be armed with a zest for exploration, a commitment to the world around you, and a profound openness to chance.

At Better Farm, my sustainability center and artist colony where we grow organic produce for the local community, we adhere to the “Better Theory” -- the idea that every experience is an opportunity for personal growth. The Better Theory shifts our perspectives and turns struggles and challenges into stepping stones toward greatness. By using this approach, we are able to connect to a higher power -- a universal existence that's in rhythm with our own needs and the needs of the world around us. When we work through things that are difficult, we maximize our ability to find our ikigai.

Maybe you hate your job and would love to do something different—but you have a mortgage, six children, and thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Maybe you have debilitating physical ailments, and you just want to give up. Or, maybe it's as simple as your desire to garden when you don’t have the first idea how. 

Whether you're a fisher, farmer, concert pianist, doctor, student, stay-at-home parent, accountant, or baker, you are more than capable of tapping into the basic part of you that is passionate, turned on by truth, and willing to determinedly journey to do now what will make things better later. So what are you waiting for? Here's how to get started.

Ask More Questions

Don't look at the current state of things and just throw up your hands. Ask yourself why you’re anxious. Explore what is missing in your life. Examine how much you take from the world versus how much you give back environmentally, spiritually, in your relationships, and at your job.

Prioritize Joy

When we say we don't have time for something, what we are truly saying is that the activity in question simply isn't a priority. We choose every day what we have time for. If we prioritize our time and spend it doing things we know bring us joy (tea with a best friend, hiking, sitting in a park eating a picnic lunch) instead of activities we gain nothing from (surfing social media or watching TV), then the time we spend not working acquires added value.

Copy Nature

Mother Nature is one smart lady. From ethics to food production to giving more than you take, look to the land base for lessons on how to live your life. Almost everything you need exists in abundance in the natural world.

Grow Your Own

There is no reason everyone can't be growing at least some of his or her own food. Any fish tank can host an aquaponics array that will give you and your families fresh produce year-round. Herbs can grow in pots hanging from your kitchen walls. Start a community garden with your neighbors if you don't have the time to take care of so much on your own, then split what you reap.

Make Time

The number one complaint I hear from overwhelmed people is that there just isn’t enough time to pursue hobbies and passions. Turn off the TV and phone one night (or more). Relearn how to play. Run around with a young child. Join a pickup soccer league. Go wander around in the woods or start taking a quick walk around the block after dinner. Skip. Jump rope. Go hiking with a dog.

Turn on Your Creativity

All the time. Stay open. If someone asks you to make a decision or you have to deal with a trauma, think about the issue from a new angle. Thinking creatively and being more action-oriented will make your life feel more like an adventure and less like a struggle.

Savor the Synchronicity of Coincidence

You spent all of yesterday thinking about your best friend from college. Today, he called you. You didn't get your dream job and finally decided to take the leap and start your own business. Allow for the magical possibility that you can connect to strangers, loved ones, animals, and nature. The more you trust the art of synchronicity, the more you're guaranteed to see it at work everywhere.

Make Art 

I don't care if you haven't picked up an instrument since being forced to study the recorder in third grade: Each of us has the capacity to make art. Taking classes in pottery, photography, creative writing or drumming will expand your social circle and get you out of your own head. Using down time to knit, crochet, embroider or collage greeting cards turns idleness into productivity. Try carrying a small notebook around with you and jot down ideas, funny one-liners, quotes or memories. The actual act of creating art is good for you emotionally and physically, no matter your age or skill level. The point is that is should be something apart from your normal routine; something you do simply “for art’s sake”.

Compost Your Food Scraps

About 20% of what we throw away as waste in the United States is actually food. If no one ever threw a food scrap away ever again that would mean millions of pounds of food scraps each year turning into lush soil for backyard gardeners. If you don't have a garden, look for a drop off near you. You'll be surprised how many people would like your scraps.

Be Grateful

Consistently grateful people are less stressed and materialistic; they have more energy, compassion, forgiveness and hope. So pay attention to what people do for you every day. Someone holding the door for you at a cafe. A smile from a tollbooth operator. A stranger calling to say she found your wallet. An unexpected phone call from a friend. Look for all the small ways people go out of their way to make your life better. And thank them.

Want more tips on reinvention? Be sure to check out my new book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, available on Amazon through New Society Publishers.