Cultivating Purpose

I get out of bed before my alarm goes off, stretch, shower, make a cup of tea and grab some cottage cheese.  Then my computer is on and I'm writing, working on a new book.  I don't take a break for almost two hours, yet the time feels like it has flown.  I'm energized, not depleted by my work.

I love my job as a writer, a passion I didn't really discover until I started writing about the joys of minimalism.  I enjoy working every day, even on the days when the words don't flow as smoothly as I might wish.

under cultivation

What's your goal?

What gets you out of bed, excited to begin the day?  I'm willing to bet it isn't a new outfit or doodad for your home, or even a new car.  Isn't it more likely to be a long-anticipated event or an exhilarating challenge?  Maybe you're eager for the beginning of a new project, or for its satisfying completion.  Or you could be looking forward to a special trip or a visit with a much-missed loved one.

Sometimes looking at people's Pinterest and Instagram feeds, it seems that their main goal in life is to have a lot of stuff.

Is that really your goal for your life?  To have the most clothes, or the coolest gadgets, or the latest home d├ęcor?  Is that what your life is for?  All of the time spent shopping, comparing features and prices, all of the time spent working to earn the money for new stuff.  All of that thought, energy, and hope focused on more stuff.

Or maybe your goal is being able to say you've visited the most exotic places.  Being able to check a destination off your list and post some pictures is the be-all and end-all of your life.  How satisfying to shine in any conversation by saying "Yep!  Been there, done that!"  Your life energy is spent looking for the next "wow" location.

This endless seeking can be exciting.  It can be enriching and mind-expanding.  Or it might be an expression of restlessness, rootlessness, and dissatisfaction.  This search for bigger and better thrills can be an addiction, and we know what addictions do to us.

Addictions eat away at our foundations.  They waste us.

Perhaps what we should be trying to acquire is a mission for our lives, a reason to get up every morning.

How to find happiness

Bertrand Russell, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager.  As an adult, he tried to discover the root causes of happiness and unhappiness – the factors that would either make you excited to get out of bed in the morning or not.

His 1930 classic, The Conquest of Happiness, reveals the results of Russell's research.  He writes that the common characteristic of happy people is "zest" – enthusiasm, eagerness, and energy.  To Russell, having zest for life means being active, creative, interested in the world around you, and ready to learn new things.

Does planning my next bucket list trip increase my zest for life?  Okay, maybe it does.  Not only may that really special trip to someplace I've always wanted to visit bring excitement to my life, but the planning and anticipation may be equally stimulating.

But what happens once the trip is over?  What if I take that trip, and post my pictures, and then feel only let down because the experience is in the past?  What if I let my dream trip make me dissatisfied with everyday life?  Are my only options to either jump into planning my next big adventure or counting the days until I can go back?

Guess what?  We're back where we started, with the need for a bigger and better high.  We're back to being discontented and unhappy.

"Be happy" – it's a verb.

Zest for life needs to come from inside, not from outward experiences or circumstances.  Our society tells us that we can buy excitement and fulfillment.  It's in the latest phone, or that designer bag, or maybe a new car.  Except it isn't – because otherwise we wouldn't need next year's hot gadget or fashion trend.

Zest for life is seen in the difference between: 

  • spending the weekend slouched in front of televised sports... or taking a bike ride or a hike in the woods, shooting some hoops at the park, or even accomplishing a few garden chores.  
  • spending hours on social media... or calling or visiting a friend, having some friends over to play a board game, or joining with some friends in a volunteer opportunity you all care about.  
  • spending the day shopping for new stuff... or making something yourself, finding a new use for an old item, or simply realizing that you are blessed to have plenty and can spend your time and energy on something else altogether. 

You see, zest isn't about how many experiences or belongings you can accumulate.  It isn't found in the passive consumption of retail goods or prepackaged entertainment.  Zest is active, creative, and purposeful.

A sense of purpose goes beyond a bucket list.  A sense of purpose gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

So what is your purpose?  What activity allows you to use and increase your enthusiasm, talent, attention, craftsmanship, patience, and problem-solving creativity?  I bet it isn't spending an entire afternoon hauling things out of your garage to clean, and then hauling them all back in again while your child plays alone in the back yard wishing Daddy had a different purpose for his time and energy, as Joshua Becker realized several years ago.  I bet it isn't being a tourist at yet another must-see destination.

Minimalism can help.

Minimalism can help you discover what really brings value to your life.  When you remove the things that don't increase your zest, you maximize the things that are important to you.  You realize that an uncluttered home, a more open schedule, and victory over debt leave you with energy, time, and money to pursue what matters to you.  You may spend less time living through a screen and more time appreciating the beauties of the real world.  You might even uncover talents and interests you didn't even notice before.

Those activities, events, and challenges that make you excited to get up in the morning will have more room to flourish because of minimalism.

Which activities do that for you?  Have you made time and space to pursue them?

Related article: 6 Reasons to Make Things Yourself

Updated July 2023


  1. I like your perspective on “zest” and what gets you out of bed in the morning.


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