Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression?

Finding purpose in life that goes beyond your personal needs is often mentioned as a major step in overcoming depression. That’s a hard thing to imagine, though, when you’re in the middle of a severe relapse, and survival is the only goal in sight.

Yet, one of the hallmarks of depression is loss of motivation to do anything because you feel that your life is meaningless. You are meaningless, empty, worthless, bad, nothing but a burden. There’s no sense of future, no purpose to give you hope and help pull you back to an active life.

A sense of purpose goes along with building hope for the future, hope for recovering from depression and getting your life back. Even though you can’t focus on it when you’re struggling, hope and purpose are pretty basic for regaining a sense of who you are.

The Long-Term Threat of Relapse

Let’s say that medication, therapy, and whatever else you might do to get well, succeed in getting you back to a level of basic functionality. Is it enough to be able to sleep normally, feel more energetic, get your work done?

Many would say: You’re damn straight it is! They’d be thrilled to recover that much, to stop the symptoms, even partially. But if you look to the longer term, there is no medication and no form of psychotherapy that can prevent relapse. The high rate of relapse is becoming one of the major concerns about dealing with this illness.

Continuation of even minor symptoms greatly increases the likelihood that the illness will return. Something more is needed to help you keep depression at bay.

Finding that larger purpose may not be enough either, but many stories of recovery – including those of Donna, Tony Giordano and I on this blog – describe it as a critical step.

It’s not the first one. The first step is always to get control of the worst symptoms. After a while you need more to get to the next stage of living well, and a larger purpose may be part of the answer.

What is “Larger Meaning” All About?

Many of the most widely read books on recovering from depression emphasize the need to immerse yourself in activities that serve purposes beyond your own immediate needs. Richard O’Connor (Undoing Depression), Martin Seligman (Learned Optimism) and Michael Yapko (Breaking the Patterns of Depression) are among the influential psychologists who urge this as a necessary part of recovery.

Seligman says that the emphasis on individualism has replaced values that once focused on community, religion, family and a sense of social cohesion. The private good is more important for most than the public good, and as a consequence many of us seek fulfillment for ourselves as if we were independent of a greater social context.

He believes that an excess of individualism is a social contributor to the vast increase in depression. His solution is to explore a role in community life that serves others as well as yourself.

Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (my emphasis), goes even farther. He says that the fundamental drive in human existence is the need to find meaning in life in general, not just in your life. He calls this transcendent meaning, one that includes us in a greater whole.

Many find this greater meaning and purpose in God and spirituality or service to country or activism for social good. Frankl believes that a sense of purpose in your own life and self-fulfillment are the by-products of attempting to fulfill such a larger meaning.

Putting yourself into an activity that goes beyond you – like Donna’s volunteer work, Tony’s new career in teaching, my own writing on depression – can make the difference between getting by and feeling fully alive again.

Avoiding a Common Trap

There is a potential trap here. Depressive thinking can twist the most fulfilling activities into more excuses for self-condemnation. That can happen if you start imagining that you’re not worth anything unless you have this larger purpose and unless you’re really good at the work you do to fulfill it.

Your worth is not proportional to what you achieve in life. Part of depressive thinking and your inner critical voice keeps telling you that it is and that you always fall short. This is a classic example of all or nothing thinking, and it’s an ever-present danger for the battered self-esteem that is usually part of the illness.

Cognitive therapy techniques can be effective in keeping you out of this trap. They enable you to assess each setback in realistic terms rather than as indicators of your worth as a person.

How Do You Rediscover Purpose?

How to you find this larger purpose if you feel you don’t have one? Starting at any level is important, and support groups build on your own need for help. You may look at them only as a means to feel better yourself. But what you’re doing is sharing with others. You’re helping them as much as they are helping you.

I’ve rarely found it easy or comfortable to become active in face-to-face support groups because I get so anxious and self-conscious. It’s hard to be myself, harder still to trust others enough to open up. But I did find a place in one group that make a big difference in my life.

What drew me into it was the concerned and non-judgmental response I got the first time I spoke up about my problems with depression. As the group continued to meet over time, we would share the good feeling when one of us made progress and empathize with anyone having a tough time. We had all had similar experiences, and that helped us talk freely.

This may not sound like finding a meaning in life. That phrase suggests a great epiphany, a call from on high to some noble duty. But the reality is down to earth. You start at a level that feels good and supportive and see where you go from there.

Alcoholics Anonymous has always understood the power of one addict helping another. Both are supported and both are doing something that goes beyond their immediate personal need. That’s why service became one of the three pillars of recovery from AA’s earliest days.

I doubt you can live without a belief that there is some purpose to your life. It’s so common to hear people say that they want to make a difference. They want recognition, but they also want a sense that they’re doing something that will help others as well.

This may be the farthest thing from your mind when you’re absorbed in a depression nightmare. But I feel it’s one of those anchor points I need so that I can look ahead with a little hope.

Does this idea make sense in your work to get rid of depression? Have you been able to find a meaning and purpose that helps you keep your bearings at the worst moments?

Image by Grzegorz Chorus at Flickr

61 Responses to “Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression?”

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  1. John says:

    I definitely feel that finding my purpose helped me get out of depression and eventually, also helped me with my social anxiety too.

    My depression came on because I graduated as a part 1 architect in May 2008. The worst economic recession since modern times. I then tried to retrain as a teacher where I experienced workplace bullying. This led to a major breakdown. Eventually, I sought help from my GP and they gave me citalopram and a waiting list of 6 months for any therapy, even though I was deemed at high risk of suicide.

    Anyway, I came through my experience because once the citalopram had taken hold I was able to start training myself in web design and Spanish, and FINALLY found a job as a web designer but…200 miles away in London. So it was a challenge in terms of my social anxiety, but all in all, finding purpose, and a job, really helped me overcome my depression.

    Thanks for sharing your post.

  2. Dr. Wayne says:

    The people who do not admit that they are suffering from depression are the vulnerable. They are the one who needed help but how if they refuse to connect with the reality. They intend to isolate themselves and say to say end-up into suicidal act. Be connected with your family and friends. Never ignore the symptoms. Thank you John for wonderful thoughts that you shared in your post. Great reads! Many enlighten up to find purpose on their lives.

  3. Peka says:

    I often hear/read this advice on dealing with depression: help others. The homeless, disabled, poor, etc. While fundamentally I agree that finding a greater purpose in life beyond your personal needs and desires gives us a feeling of connectedness and thus purpose, it is the definition of “help” that is tricky: both from the receiving and from the giving end it needs to make sense and often (especially from the giving end) it doesn’t. It is trendy to state that getting involved in charity is good for your character, as it portrays one as humble and giving and who doesn’t want to be perceived as such. But is it really about appreances or do we want to cure our depression? Will it cure my depression if I show others that I am a charitable person, while in reality the voluntary help to the homeless is not something I enjoy doing at all or do well? Lucky are those who find just as much purpose in handing out food to homeless, as in teaching problem children, caring to disabled or elderly, etc., but I don’t fall in the one category while I may in the other, I know from experience. We are all different and we have different gifts to help others, it only makes sense to find ways to help others in those that we are good at, rather than randomly helping without real talent for it. There are examples where volunteers at natural disasters get traumatized themselves as they are not equipped to be dealing with the traumas they witness. They may even harm those in the process who require professional help. That’s not real help on either receiving or giving end, still there are companies expecting their staff to volunteer in disaster scenarios and not participating may even lead to public shame: hence the overrated trendy image of volunteer work.
    If it is our purpose to do something meaningful, it means we have to believe that the help we actually offer makes sense for the receiving end, but also that it is aligned with our abilities and belief system. For example, if I intend to teach children, it has to be my belief that on the one hand the knowledge they acquire through me actually puts them on a better path in life and on the other hand I need to have the suitable skills to educate them, but I also need to be a person who LIKES educating others. If I fundamentally do not like educating others (for lack of patience, not feeling capable, etc.), I will not see sense in teaching others, as I will not find purpose for myself in life through the act of teaching: it would feel as if I try to lead someone else’s life, who is not me. In short, if we engage in activities that are unlike us, we become even more detached from our inner being and feel even less connected to our environment and the universe and in general feel even less sense in existing. Not a path out of depression.
    So the prerequisite is knowing ourselves well enough: what it is that we like to do, what it is that we want to pass on or help our environment with. A selfless act in and by itself may be of support to our environment, but will not necessarily give us purpose. That’s the Catch22 of depression: selfless acts only make sense if we first get to know our true selves. But how does one get motivated while being depressed to get to know oneself, what motivates one to do that, not seeing purpose in anything?.. I don’t see how getting involved in charity for example would pull me out of this trap.

    My suggestion would much rather be the other way around: engaging in preferred or random activities in which we engage with our environment and find where our mojo lies, without the express purpose of helping others initially. Perhaps I feel at home playing an instrument and that will motivate me to perform in front of an audience and the joy I bring them gives me purpose, motivating me to pick it up as a hobby and find purpose in performing. Or perhaps I like to read a lot of books and discuss my findings with friends, colleagues, family and the satisfaction I derive from informing/teaching them gives me purpose, this in turn can lead to me starting to teach on matters that interest me. Or sharing my professional experiences on open platforms and in case interest arises, find ways to transfer knowledge, which will give me a feeling of purpose.
    Whichever way, the activities we engage in from our personal interest can give purpose to our abilities, thus motivating us to engage in passing on our passion to the activity, the knowledge we gain or any other way in which we actually HELP others. That is real help. I do not believe however that it works the other way around, by starting with the need of others and trying to find sense in fulfilling those needs. It will only drive us away even further from ourselves and make us feel even more inadequate if we don’t find joy in these generally accepted selfless acts.

    • Fiona says:

      Peka that makes sense Thankyou

    • Casey says:

      So spot on. I agree with you 100 %

    • Ella says:

      Thanks so much for making this point! It matches my experience exactly, and explains why volunteering at soup kitchens never appealed to me as a way out of depression. It just felt like more painful interactions with people, which is what usually drives me into depressive episodes to begin with. It’s much more effective when I allow myself time and space to delve into nature photography and photo editing, because it reinvigorates me and I derive a sense of safety and pleasure from communing with the natural world, my camera, and my computer. Then I find a way to share the uplifting photos I create with others, to brighten their moods as well. A purposeful retreat into myself (and the woods!) Sometimes I even end up teaching a short course on nature photography at my local community college, but it’s really just me sharing my own work and techniques with others. And it keeps me more genuinely connected than would a stressful day serving people in ways for which I’m not emotionally equipped.

  4. Great article. Abraham Lincoln probably is the most well known example of someone who transcended his depression by finding an overarching purpose.

  5. I agree that most therapy and medication can help stabilize you and limit the impact of depression, but it takes a lot more to find your life again. Sometimes, it not so much recovering life as entering it more fully for the first time. Purpose and meaning are essential – “much more free” is a good way to put it.

  6. Mark R. says:

    I found this article interesting, because some of it I can relate too. I’m 47 years old, and I have served in the military for 20 years; just got out in 2013. Now that I have retired from the service, I feel that I have no purpose, so I go through a lot of depression, not to mention the service has left a physical scar on me. My service to my country, or the volunteer work I have done has never been about me; I never wanted any recognition, or pat on the back. I did what I did, because it made me feel good inside, and that’s how I got my feeling of self-worth, which helped me make it through each day. By me helping to heal others, it was healing me in the process. I don’t see how helping others for self gain, or recognition is rewarding, because it then only becomes your job. I just turned down treatment, because I don’t like psychologist of any type, because they themselves give me anxiety, but I guess I can now look at it in a different aspect of helping others heal, as well as myself.

  7. Ali says:

    I m living with depression since last 7,8 years and i have tried pysch, took medications too but nothing has helped me in long run. I’m in mid 20s. I have lost hope in everything it seems. And i feel like i m sitting in a crowd where everyone is wearing a mask and i can’t find my way.

  8. Vancouver says:

    I am approaching my 70th birthday but I’m still 18 yrs old mentally so depression has no age. I have achieved financial stability because I worked hard all my life. Been married, had many boyfriends. Took awesome awareness training, been in therapy (after my marriage failed). Most of my lifelong friends from my 20’s are dead. I have been lonely most of my life and it’s eating me alive.
    I know in my soul that being in service to others is the answer. Any suggestions please.

    • Ali says:

      In this modern world the new generation is living in virtual world. You can spend time with children to tell them what was life before technology boom.

    • Peka says:

      Indeed, depression has no age, nor has the feeling of loneliness. Nor are either of a necessarily lasting nature.. In my experience, loneliness sets in when we feel we do not belong, our abilities serve no purpose as we are not surrounded by those who need us, be it workplace, family or friends. The way I try to remedy this is by finding those activities that I enjoy most and the skills and abilities I have for these. Once I know what I like to do and have the skillset, I can engage with others and share this passion or serve by passing it on. When one steps in an environment where others are involved in the same activity, it creates self worth as you feel you can contribute, you suddenly have a purpose and a goal in life. Loneliness then subsides, as you feel you are not alone in the activities you are involved in and the goals you set. It creates new human bonds, opens new dimensions and inner energies.
      Everyone must have had at least one activity since childhood you enjoy doing. Something you actually performed, which had a start and an end. It can be cleaning your room, fixing your bike, collecting stamps, running around the park, counting the planes in the sky. It shows you have an ability or passion for something. No need for genius, as long as you enjoy doing it. As we grow up, we develop more abilities to perform more complicated tasks, each serving a purpose. Some of these just for ourselves, some to serve our environment. Once you know what you’re good at, you can start sharing it with others. You may not become a famous stamp collector or world champion marathon runner, but your passion for collecting or checking stamps or running may lead to joining a club or getting a job where your skills are needed and suddenly your passion translates to specific purpose to society. You just may find yourself organizing stamp collector meetings or giving advice to runners on how to run more efficiently or helping in as a bike mechanic in your circle of friends. Any skill you have will lead to a feeling of having a purpose and your loneliness will disappear when you feel connected, by sharing your abilities with others, serving a purpose that helps them. If you manage to make a living on it, it’s actually called a job :).
      If someone feels like not having any hobbies, activities one feels comfortable with at all or abilities that serves any purpose and sitting passively in front of the TV all day is the only pleasant passtime, it is time to FIND the activities that bring pleasure, where actually some effort is involved. It can start with a simple walk in the park, perhaps a roadtrip joining an organized trip with strangers, usually change of scenery helps in finding ideas. Friends or family may also help in answering the question what they think you might enjoy most.
      I wish you luck in finding your way!

    • Maureen says:

      Hello Vancouver,
      I read your post today and thought it was me….I am 68 going on 18, a retired nurse. I worked with children who were dying, children and adults who had mental illnesses and hospice…and I studied Buddhism. I felt like this gave me purpose. After I retired and friends started dying and family really didn’t want to be bothered, I tried traveling to different parts of the world to see if I could live simply somewhere…but, wherever you go, there you are…..I am in Costa Rica now for 2 years and contemplating my next matter what the advertisers say, it is not paradise…..I have thought about going to Nepal to volunteer but I am not sure if my body would adjust to a third world country….I think the happiest part of my life has been when I have danced…wether it was swing dancing, tango, salsa etc….and I think the reason is because what I am seeking is a sense of

      community, which is very difficult to find at my age, ….I have tried writing, yoga, hiking and creative projects which sometimes sustains me, but, which takes much effort, especially doing it alone.and now, without a group to do it with, it is difficult……I am going to travel again…..something actually that I do like to do by myself and if I have any success in finding something that helps, I will let you know….it’s very important to me because I am aware how easily good health can vanish….so, I want to do it while I can….the best of luck to you and let me know what has worked for you. Maureen

      • Debra says:

        I hope you found your purpose.. if not I’ll share a rcent experience. My Dad was in hospital recently (died 19.8.19). Because family were forbidden open visiting hours, Dad asked for someone to visit him when ee weren’t allowed to be there. A lady volunteer would visit him and they talked about life and inevitable death. My Dad was scared and this heavenly stranger helped in her way to ease my Dad’s fear. I am forever grateful for her purpose filled nature.

  9. Mary_c says:

    This is great!

    I read something along the lines a few years ago, at the bottom of my lifelong depression.

    Before reading that, my life turned upside down. Nothing I wanted up to that moment mattered anymore. Life wasn’t about a successful career, making money, being skinny, having a handsome boyfriend.

    But what was it about?

    It was about making this world a little better before leaving it. No matter how crappy you think your life was, if you help the world – somebody- then you left a better world.

    After working hard at finding my purpose I finally found it: I WANT TO HELP AS MANY ANIMALS AS I CAN TO LIVE A FREE, HAPPY, CRUELTY FREE LIFE.

    It doesn’t mater if I dont achieve anything else, it doesnt matter if my day looks dark and hopeless. If I can help one of these creatures Im happy.

    Sometimes I get depressed and pulled by those thoughts and then I suddenly read about all these animals suffering and ask myself “what on earth are you doing getting depressed about little things, go out and live, go out and help”

  10. liz says:

    Finding a purpose in life to overcome depression was an excellent piece of writing.

    I really believe that without a purpose in life most of us wouldnt bother to get out of bed in the morning.

    I always encourage my clients to look for that purpose, that thing that will make them want to get up and get on with life.
    It doesnt have to be anything big or time consuming. Making just a small change, having just one little thing to focus on, just finding something small to do can have a huge impact on how you feel.

  11. Robert says:

    Life has a purpose – to have a good time, while living in the harmony with the others (all people in the world).
    Should all of us strive to live this purpose, depressions and other mental illnesses will soon cease to exist.

  12. Lost says:

    I feel displaced and without purpose. I’ve always questioned the way the world makes it out that a job and career is a path to fulfilment. I’ve never experienced that. I belong to no culture, no community, am not religious. There seems to be no point to life other than *having* to earn money to afford to eat and have shelter over your head. But I simply buy the food from a store and someone else builds the shelter I live in. I work for and towards nothing that gives me any kind of result and purpose. I have no direction, no motivation to do hobbies that I once used to. No energy or understanding as to why I should bother doing something else. I don’t see the point. I’m in my 30s and feel like this is pure hell if I have to keep spinning around living this mediocre, monotonous life until I’m old and die. This is life? It’s nothing.

    • Christine says:

      I feel exactly the same – everything seems pointless. I sleep half the day when I am not at work as it is an easy way to fill in time. I’m in my mid-forties and don’t know how I’m going to fill in the next 20 or 30 years. Just waiting for spring – winter always makes me feel more hopeless

      • Lost says:

        Yeah, when it’s warmer I do feel better. The sun on your skin is good and there’s far less doomy weather, and people tend to be more active. But eh, it doesn’t solve any of the larger issues that we both seem to feel. I’m seeing a psych about it but it’s not like anyone has answers to such enormous problems that more and more people seem deal with. Socially, there is a very large problem that seems to be perpetuated more and more. When you find zero fulfilment in consumerism, and the soul sucking jobs that you are required to have to support said consumerism, what’s left?

        • Christine says:

          I’m seeing a psych at the moment too – but nothing she is saying is connecting with me. She has a career and a family – how can she understand what it is like to have none of those things – not a single relative in this country.
          It’s interesting that you mention consumerism. I work in retail – encouraging people to buy products they really don’t need – not something to get any satisfaction from.

          • Gordon says:

            Christine, I have been struggling about not having purpose. I am convinced that my feelings are directly related to not have a life partner to share fun things with. to play, to chase and catch! to tease and be teased, both intellectually and otherwise. Your replay tells me that somewhere there is someone who might fit into that role for me. best of lucj to you on your journey.

          • Vivienne says:

            Exactly how I feel about my therapist. I migrated ages ago and after the divorce ended up totally alone, no family, no friends beyond co-workers .. my therapist is lovely but how on earth can she understand how it feels to be alone? And she keeps pushing medication on me. I’m just scared to go on meds (lexapro).

  13. tabitha says:

    This has kind of helped me right now I go to class and question myself the whole week this builds up I just barely get my work done and dont get to doing important things like personal hygiene, eating, and functioning normally. I just got into a relationship and this is starting to hurt my boyfriend too I hate depression

  14. D. Sinkler says:

    I’m so glad I ran into this blog today. You seem to address the exact same issues that have been affecting me at least since I was in my ’20s. I never felt that I had any purpose in my life but I just couldn’t resign myself to finding it by prayer and worship; too many doubts. Unfortunately, sometimes when you’re a “ship without a pilot” you run into people who will “climb aboard” and steer you in the direction they need to go! I’m at the point now where I finally owned my depression, instead of denying it, and I have to find a way to cope with the symptoms; step one. But I feel just through reading this blog that it’s not all just chasing after the wind.

  15. Ro says:

    I feel life has no meaning and I can’t enage my self into any activity that I know beforehand it is not worth my time that is left in this life. Why bother working when you could stay at home? Why bother talking to people when many want to blabber and no one wants to hear? Those few who hear mostly don’t understand and waste your energy with futile reasoning on trying this or that option which I have already tried. The remaining very few, listen to you and can do nothing about it. I have engaged in non-profit, civic and political movements I believe in and have done so with a giving intention and have engaged myself wholeheartedly. But this still hasn’t made my feeling “that life has no purpose and that any effort can be futile” go away. I still feel very depressed. Talked to psychologist, did cbt, had some pills for a while, but even the psychologist couldn’t do much about the fact that life indeed has no purpose. She just tried to make me do things in order to bring enthusiasm back. It doesn’t help. I can do things but this doesn’t take away the underlying belief that life has no purpose and what i am doing is not much worth really. I don’t see the point of engaging myself into anything. I can’t see why bother when i could as well stay in my warm bed.

    • April says:

      I can completely understand except I cant get out of bed and I enjoy nothing. I spend my day thinking “I will do laundry” then i dont. This goes on all day about many different “things I could do” and I end up doing nothing. I have no meaning in life at all.

      • Martin says:

        Thank you for posting your message. It means a lot to me right now. I feel exactly the same, and when I read that others feel as I do I find some comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I feel like such failure to myself almost all of the time. The biggest problem I feel that I have is figuring out where to start and what I can do to perhaps help myself, but I get sucked down into the loop of pointlessness again and again. It’s like trying to drag yourself out of quicksand and I can’t see an end to it sometimes.
        I can be so rational, positive and helpful for other people but I can’t do anything for myself, and the downward spiral of self deprecation just keeps going on and on, and I’d really like it to stop.
        I don’t think I actually feel depressed, I just feel completely nothing. No joy, no pain, no happiness, nothing at all. I wonder a lot what the point of feeling this way achieves for any of us.
        I also keep going back to the thought that if we see life as completely pointless then this possibly delivers immense freedom, because you can actually do absolutely anything without any fear because there are no boundaries to what we do when there’s no point to it all anyway. If we are to return to oblivion once our lives have ended then we are free to do absolutely anything we want, at any point in our lives that we chose to do it, as long as we don’t hurt anyone else in the process obviously. If we chose to do nothing then that’s OK too and we shouldn’t keep punishing ourselves for it by constantly beating ourselves up psychologically.
        Also, I have had a little success lately by focusing on the ‘feeling’ delivered by the end result of action, instead of trying to force myself to take action. A simple thing like the dishes or laundry comes with a feeling of accomplishment at the end of it, and a feeling that I’ve taken a positive step forward, no matter how small the step might be. If I only pick on one thing in an entire day then focus on how I know I’ll feel at the end of doing that thing then I find I actually get off my ass, well some of the time I do :-P, but it’s a start, I hope, and I hope it goes on and builds up so I can drag myself back from the abyss so I can actually be good and kind to myself for a change. I think I need to give myself a break. I think we all do. I think we might feel a little better if we say to ourselves “Hey, I don’t need to keep beating myself up and I should be kind to me, for me, not for anyone else, just me”.
        I could be talking rubbish and this might not be at all helpful to anyone, but I wrote this reply for me, so I can externalize how I feel, for me, and if it helps someone else then brilliant 🙂
        I wonder if it’s possible to learn to just love who we are, or even just like ourselves a bit more, regardless of whether we do stuff or not, or whether we have some grand life purpose or not??

        • Too young for this?? says:

          I read everyone’s responses until here so far and everything is everything I feel about closely. Im not going to tell my age but although I am young this feeling has made me feel very old. I am writing this for me too. I do have the motivation to clean because i live with others and i enjoy order ironically. Ive felt this way since elementary, highschool and just all my life until now. Ive enjoyed company, art but i cant bother making friends or sketching on a normal basis (not at all for sketching ) i have no passion but I write everything thing i want to think about down. I knew that i am probably depressed but this is probably who i am do to circumstances in my life/view of my life but i cant help that except be positive. I’m smart but I just need some courage every now and then, more faith that it’s easier to live as i come from low income status and i have Dyscalculia. I am not lazy but i am happy to take my time and take care of myself. I quit a job because it was annoying lol. I dont care about money unless I truely need it at the time i did. I do dislike social expectations see… Depression seems tabo to me but I know i have it sometimes i think deeply about how scared i am and after a minute it doesnt feel necessary.. I come from a single parent home and its just natural to snap out of the mindset unless you want to feel everything and try to move on.

  16. Mr Lake says:

    I have battled with depression and life for so long now it’s hard to remember a time when I felt normal.
    I have always felt there is so much more to my circumstances and it is nonsense to just label it under depression.
    I’m not a religious man but at the same time feel there has to be a greater meaning a greater purpose to my being to everything.
    I feel as though I spend my entire life in search of something I can’t give a name to nor describe.
    This in my opinion is responsible for the symptoms I suffer the symptoms we call depression.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    I have suffered with depression for many years. I have taken medications, participated in group therapy and have had individual counseling. But the depression is still here. Yes, some days are better than others and this last year has been better than most. But I feel like I am always putting on a facade for others. I try to stay busy so as not to fall into a major depression – been there, done that. But I am focusing on work and doing that well because I feel that is the only place I excel. But when I hear work-life balance I laugh. I work and/or study because I do it well and it pays the bills. But I feel I have no ‘life’. It is all work, and even work takes effort. My hobbies sit and stare at me – I used to sew and knit and read and needlepoint and cook, but I have little to no motivation for that. Getting up in the mornings is exhausting. I feel like I am spinning my wheels and the only accomplishment I can get is more work. I am now looking for a spiritual answer because people tend to let me down and at this point in my life it is just me and if I and God can’t fix this then I am doomed.

  18. Isaac says:

    Precisely last year (August, 2015), immediately i resumed school as a final year student, i was filled with depression that i feel like doing something negative to myself.
    I actually related it to some persons and they all contributed.
    The depression actually affected me academically, but i still kept academic going till i graduated.
    It was after my school i could overcome it completely.
    I overcame it due to how discovered my purpose in life after school.
    Right now am a happy person because i wake up everyday fulfilling my purpose and get even stronger when challenges hits me.
    Know your purpose helps to know your area of operation.
    When you dont have a purpose, you are like a car with no brake, you move anywhere and answerable to anything, but if you’re purposeful, you know already your desired result before embarking on anything.
    Isaac from Nigeria!!!

    • Isaac says:

      This post has inspire me the more and i think i have been motivated as to how to be more successful in lofe.

      Value+strength+passions= Purpose.

    • Anggi Dwi says:

      How did you find your purpose? A year ago, my job was the source of my depression. Now that I’m jobless, I’m still having depression.
      I’ve been trying to find the purpose of my life, my passion, but I couldn’t. Things I used to love, seems like no longer hold my interest. Everything seems so hard, so boring. I used to love running. Now, I can’t even push myself to put on some sweatpants.

      • MoonBeam says:

        I’m in similar position, had a job and hated it, got very depressed while doing it so left, but now feel very depressed with no life path or purpose. Have no inclination or energy to do anything much and things I used to enjoy now just seem boring or flat. One thing I’m finding is to focus on something small that makes me feel happy in the moment. Like when I see a nice dog it can make me feel a bit happier, especially when it rubs up against and wants the ears tickled.. My sister has a very lively but also very affectionate dog, seeing them definitely helps, if only temporarily. There’s no big purpose or meaning to it, just happiness in that moment. I feel humans are both blessed and cursed with the power of thought. We can achieve wonderful things but it can also swallow us up.

        Hope you find your way through..

        • Martin says:

          I think you may be on to something there. Little things to keep us going, instead of having this nagging feeling that we have to do something huge and positive because that’s what we think society wants from us. If we simply dismiss the external pressure we feel to ‘achieve’ and do things as and when we think they ‘should’ be done, which I think is where my personal internal stress comes from, then maybe we could allow ourselves to be happier, and let go of our internal pressure, and the internal pressure to be happy. Maybe we could allow ourselves the freedom to feel as we do and be OK with it because it’s who we are and we don’t need to be someone we’re not, some ideal of a hugely happy individual we know deep down we will never be. I for one cut people a lot of slack but don’t give myself a break, and maybe if we did we could let go of our torments and be who we are without judging ourselves so negatively, which may be where the problem we face comes from. Just a thought.

          • Mel says:

            I couldn’t agree more!
            Finding one little thing some days are all I can do, but feeling proud of myself that day, for having gone for a walk (even in winter) or having nice moment with my kids, gives me hope that maybe tomorrow will be better.

  19. Christena says:

    I too suffer from depression and am glad I came across this website. I can’t seam to find the meaning of life and why we do what we do such as clean go to work when we can’t find enjoyment. The mornings are the hardest time for me I can’t push myself to get up at a decent time and feel the most sad but by the end of the day I am able to smile again. I take medication, but it’s hard to understand how far that will actually go and what it’s suposed to do as it does help but I’m still depressed at times.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Christena. I feel similar to you, some days are better than others. I like to create … knitting, sewing, card crafting, baking but some days don’t seem able to motivate myself to do anything other than sleep most of the time. My medication has recently been increased. You say you still feel depressed at times do you think you need to visit your doctor and have your medication assessed? It is sometimes difficult to find enjoyment isn’t it in day to day activities. I’ve recently been given a bicycle. Apparently exercise can help with depression but again lacking motivation. Take care. Sue

  20. Ruth says:

    I think i am going through depression. I often feel helpless and misunderstood. Like a perpetual failure and someone who should simply die. I should die. I am studying but the only reason i am doing so is because i need to convince myself and others that i am at least good at something. And eve at my studies, i suck! I think finding a purpose in life would help me. I need to find something beyond me that doesnt just work for those around me.

    • Mandy says:

      Hi Ruth,
      I don’t know how or why, but this is the first comment I read and I can so relate, I’m studying to, yet feels as though it’s to prove myself to my own self and others that I am useful, and perhaps in the hope that someone will need me, thus giving myself a purpose.
      But overall, i’m just lost and uncertain about life and everything, I feel like I a waste and just watching everyone else do shit in there lives and accomplish something, whereas I’m just sitting, floating, unsure, and in the way being meaningless.
      I think we could have a chat, it may benefit us both.

    • Christena says:

      Hi Ruth,
      Are you studying something that you enjoy because I found when I was studying in university I felt a little depressed because I wasn’t clicking with what I was studying and my grades weren’t good but when I went to college after and took something I enjoyed I felt more meaning and purpose.

  21. DEP says:

    I thought this a thoughtful, well written and helpful article. Thank you for caring about others!

  22. Tiffany says:

    Finding reasons to live during times of depression is a great start to overcome such troubled situations. You may find your reasons to be your family, your wife, or even you yourself who still want to get the best out of life. You who still want to prove something or even achieve something to make your life more meaningful.

  23. Donna-1 says:

    “There is a potential trap here. Depressive thinking can twist the most fulfilling activities into more excuses for self-condemnation. That can happen if you start imagining that you’re not worth anything unless you have this larger purpose and unless you’re really good at the work you do to fulfill it.”

    Yes. Guilty. Another avenue to self-condemnation is denying yourself the chance to simply live free of depression, once you reach recovery or stability. That is a part of what you are saying, I think. Sometimes I feel I need to make up for lost time. All those decades I was not able to “contribute” to society. All the chances I missed to have relationships, to enjoy my family, to go for a walk and see something besides the tops of my shoes.

    There are times I sit and watch TV all day now, the rare afternoon I take a long nap, having fun following boards on Pinterest, even the fascination of realizing, “Hey, I’m not fighting for my life anymore.” I feel like I just got back from military deployment. I’m home, but still in shell shock. Still learning how to filter my feelings and my senses. Things don’t feel quite right, but I’m hoping they will soon.

    Voices are hammering at me from the past and present. “When are you going to get a job? When are you going to save for your retirement like your brother? Don’t you want to own your own home? At least you are are well enough now you could move in with your mother and take care of her. Why do you have all these great ideas and never follow through?” But if I listen to those voices, I’m right back on the battlefield. Getting no sleep. Anxiety attacks. Sliding down that slippery slope.

    My inner voice tells me recovery is not fully attained when the depression ends. There is maintenance. Keeping things in order. A very slow adjustment period. I need this time to acclimate, to rehabilitate my thoughts. Right now, this is more important to me than anything else. I just have to keep reminding myself.

    • Donna says:

      Writing is my purpose.

      And this purpose does help me overcome depression. Because it helps me figure out what I see in the world. Because I use it to explore my mind and solve my problems. Writing give me agency in this world that I would not have otherwise. It is a way of organizing my craziness so that I can see it for what it is. And move on.

  24. Ken says:

    One thing that gives my life meaning is my daughter. She’s 7 now. I’ve been through a couple debilitating bouts with depression but she was wonderful through it all. I don’t know how much she understood but she is the most accepting person in my life. I remember coming out of the most recent dark time and for the first time in months I was able to make her laugh so hard she got the hiccups. That was an amazing feeling and I imagine it was for her, too. At this point I never expect to recover from my depression and I’m trying to learn how to manage it and live with it. I carefully guard my energy because I know I don’t have much. But even if I’m sitting on the steps with my daughter and I play catch, there’s a feeling of contentment. In other areas, it’s a lack of energy and motivation which seems to be preventing me from working at creating meaning in my life. I have moments when I feel that I’ve been called to something higher than myself but I can’t quite find it. The passion is not there. But maybe I need to be more proactive and fuel the passion? I don’t know — it just sounds like a lot of hard work to me 🙂

    • Erin says:

      This is exactly the point I am at. I just feel so emotionally void, and yes, it sounds like a lot of work. I’d rather take a nap.

  25. Julie says:

    I remember hearing that Robin Wright Penn was credited for stating: “There is no sense of future” in describing what the world was feeling in
    the throws of this global economic melt-down but, true to my nature I had to make sure that I had remembered correctly who said it so googled what I felt perfectly summed up the world’s emotions as a whole. And I found your site. Lucky me! Just when I needed you most! Thank you all for reaching out to others as you have, it is the very essence of humanity.

  26. Laura Eckard says:

    I am currently working on getting my life back (again…) from depression and just happened across your blog and articles. I am finding them inspirational and thought provoking; I appreciate the comments and it is refreshing to read some truly supportive and insightful commentaries… Shared experiences can be so powerful. At times, knowing that I was not alone was the ONLY thing that got me through.

  27. When I first began to struggle with depression I was convinced that it was a spiritual crisis, and that if I could only figure out my life purpose, I would be fine. This was overly optimistic, but not totally off the mark. While I had to go through therapy and medication to reach a basic equilibrium, I didn’t start to really throw off the shackles of depression until I started working towards a life purpose. Not that I will ever be 100% free of it, but working towards something bigger than myself has allowed me to become much more free than I was before.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Johanna –

      I agree that most therapy and medication can help stabilize you and limit the impact of depression, but it takes a lot more to find your life again. Sometimes, it not so much recovering life as entering it more fully for the first time. Purpose and meaning are essential – “much more free” is a good way to put it.


  28. I actually just wrote and finished my senior thesis on Depression and Free Will, using Frankl as one of my primary sources. This is a great site and I’m so glad to have found it. I’m recovering from depression as well as other disorders and I believe we have a mental health crisis on our hands. It’s great to find others who are engaging in discussion about what is often taboo. Great job!

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Thanks, Alex –

      I wish you well with your recovery and look forward to reading your website. Thanks for commenting.


  29. Sriram says:

    Great article. Abraham Lincoln probably is the most well known example of someone who transcended his depression by finding an overarching purpose.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Thanks, Sriram –

      I’m waiting to get hold of Nassir Ghaemi’s recent book (A First-Rate Madness) on other great leaders who also used depression to their advantage. Ghaemi is a psychiatrist with a lot of interesting ideas – this is his first book for a general audience.



  1. […] Folk-Williams, J. (n.d.). Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression? Storied Mind. Retrieved from  […]

  2. […] whose influential works, especially Man’s Search for Meaning, emphasize the importance of finding a purpose larger than oneself as a way out of mental illness. It struck a chord with me as a former mental […]

  3. Storied Mind says:

    Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression?

    Does Finding Purpose in Life Help You Overcome Depression? Finding purpose in life that goes beyond your

  4. […] This is because connecting to others can help alleviate depression as feeling valued as a part of a group can give your life meaning. Or offering help to other folks when they need it, can give you a real sense of purpose in life. […]

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