The United Way of Central Iowa (UWCI) team has started talking a lot about—and exploring the importance of— “purpose” in the health of our communities. While the idea of committing time to figuring out your purpose may seem daunting or even a privilege for some, we have come to understand the importance of purpose in overall health and well-being—and that everyone should have access to discovering their own, unique purpose.


What is Purpose?

We’ve defined purpose as our “why” for existing. Understanding our individual purpose comes from identifying what motivates us, what makes us happy, and what we need in order to help us feel important and valued. We believe that by defining our individual passions, strengths and values, it helps us to discover our personal, unique purpose.


The Well-Being Index

But there’s a bigger picture to the role of purpose. Purpose affects the measurement of wellness in the Well-Being Index, which is used by Gallup to measure a community’s ability to live, learn, work and play. The Well-Being Index measures five factors that influence our health:

  • Career
  • Social
  • Community
  • Financial
  • Physical

Overall well-being, and our level of health, increases when individuals thrive in all five factors. Central Iowa ranked 23 in 2016 in overall well-being and in 2018 ranked 28.  In 2016, Central Iowa, Purpose ranked 39th out of 100 U.S. regions that were surveyed, and in 2018, we ranked 46th out of 149 regions. While these scores don’t appear horrible, what we’ve tracked is that central Iowans are scoring lower every few years in overall well-being. At UWCI, we want to stop that trend—and we know that each person’s understanding of their purpose is key to reversing, and even raising, our collective well-being score.


So…how does purpose influence well-being?

Actually, purpose happens to be incredibly influential in the Well-Being Index. Having—or not having—a sense of purpose affects every factor of the index, from level of energy and physical health to relationships, work satisfaction and safety.


Studies have shown that when we have discovered our purpose in life, we are able to improve all other aspects of our health and well-being. Consider this—purpose is your reason to get out of bed every day. It gives you motivation to set goals, take on new challenges and learn new things. Without purpose, most people feel lost, unfulfilled and aren’t even able to identify a leader they admire.


Purpose is for everyone.

While there are certainly systematic improvements that will help increase health scores at the community level, we also know that encouraging individuals to explore their own purpose in life is something we all can—and should—do. Every single person has the potential to discover their purpose, and what that purpose is looks different for everyone. There are small and big ways we can all think about our purpose, while also encouraging others to think about theirs.


Powered by Purpose

In September, UWCI and its partners are launching a new initiative called Powered by Purpose, which offers free, online resources for exploring and working on discovering your own purpose. Through, you have access to information (this blog!) and articles, links to purpose-focused events held in the community, and even an online Purpose Journey. The Journey offers the opportunity for those who are ready to be guided through the purpose discovery process with self-assessments, weekly activities and thought-provoking questions to help explore individual strengths, values and interests. We’ve even created a private Facebook group for those who join the Purpose Journey to talk and share with others participating.

We hope to start the important conversation about the power of purpose in our community. Please consider joining us and sharing how purpose has powered your life!


Erin Drinnin


Erin Drinnin is the United Way of Central Iowa Community Impact Officer, Health. She works closely with volunteers, nonprofits, and many other entities to develop and carry out the community impact strategies that are the core of United Way’s work in central Iowa. 

TAGS: Purpose

Erin Drinnin

About The Author: Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's Community Impact Officer for Health.