For most of us, life lurches from one crisis or success to the next, often without a sense of anything truly meaningful happening – not only does this make it hard to reach long-term goals, it could also be shortening your life itself. Fortunately there’s a fix…
What’s The Point Of Having A Purpose?
Apparently, asking yourself ‘what’s the point?’ is an ideal place to start living a meaningful life. Psychologists have run many studies into wellbeing and have found that those of us who have a strong sense of purpose sleep better, are less likely to be depressed and even live longer.
In 2015 researchers at Mt Sinai St Luke’s and Roosevelt analysed data from studies on 137,000 people, which showed those with a high sense of purpose were 19% less likely to die from heart disease. A 2014 University of Carleton study followed a group for ten years and found that those with a strong purpose, regardless of age, were 15% less likely to have died from any causes. Then another University College London study showed that this effect rises to 30% as you get older.
‘It’s entirely possible to be unhappy while living with a purpose’
Start By Looking Out Rather Than In
OK, have a clear purpose, sounds good – but what does a meaningful life look like, really? This can be the kind of question that leads to excessive navel gazing and terrible self-help books, so it pays to keep it simple – if you’re not sure if your life is meaningful then look around you. If you have deep relationships with the people close to you, where you confront and deal with issues, rather than just hang out with them, then you’re more likely to be living meaningfully, even if these challenges make you a bit sad at the time. A Stanford Graduate School Of Business study published by Jennifer Aaker identified how happiness and meaning are different things – it’s entirely possible to be unhappy while living with a purpose.
Finding A Path
It’s important to be motivated in life, and it’s easiest to get excited about the things that bring a smile to your face – like spending that bonus, or watching a blockbuster in the IMAX. The thing is, those things don’t count towards having a purpose – they are rewards or pleasures. The difference is that pleasure is all about the now, while purpose is about how the past, present and future are linked together to form a meaningful whole. It gives you a sense of direction, basically. Once you find the thing that is bigger than you and involves others, but gives you a sense of purpose, then you’ve found your path. ‘People have strong inner desires that shape their lives with purpose and focus – qualities that ultimately make for a uniquely human experience,’ says Aaker.
How Meaning Hacks Your Genes
The evidence shows living with a purpose helps you live longer, but why is that and why is it better for you than just being happy? According to a study by Seven Cole at the University of California, how you live affects how your genes express themselves, which impacts on your health. Being happy and having a sense of direction both make you less at risk of depression. But people who are just happy have lower expression of genes for disease-battling antibodies, and higher expression of inflammatory genes. People with high levels of purpose had the opposite experience so their overall health will be better. This may because a focus on long-term purpose reduces short-term anxiety.
‘Expressing and defining yourself is a powerful way to bring meaning into your life’
As individuals, once we’ve progressed past the point of just surviving from one day to the next, we need to find purpose, or we’ll end up being stuck in the present. But sometimes it’s easy to go with the flow and follow the crowd. The thing is, that’s a good way to lose purpose. The Stanford research found that expressing and defining yourself is a powerful way to bring meaning into your life, because it puts you into the context of your world, whether you’re starting a blog, making music, or seeding a new business philosophy…
WHAT NEXT? Most of us have some projects on the go, things we’re working towards. Make a list of them. Then ask yourself which ones resonate the most with who you are and your values, which ones you share, which you are most likely to achieve and which benefit others. Congratulations, you’ve just narrowed the field to finding a compelling purpose!
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