Do You Experience Purpose and Meaning In Your Life?
Recent Study Links Having a Sense of Purpose and Health
Before sharing this month’s article, I am pleased to let you know that I was recently awarded the PCC (Professional Certified Coach) credential by the International Coach Federation. ICF is the leading global organization dedicated to setting high standards for the coaching profession and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals. The PCC complements my CMC coaching credential from MentorCoach, one of the top professional coaching schools in the US.
Now, onto this month’s blog…
Do you have a sense of purpose in your life?
Having a sense of purpose in life is associated with a lower risk of death, according to a recent study published on May 24, 2019 in JAMA Network Open (Alimujiang, 2019). The researchers concluded: “This study’s results indicated that stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality. Purposeful living may have health benefits”.
These findings join an increasing number of studies (Cohen et al, 2016; McKnight & Kashdan, 2009) showing a connection between a sense of purpose, health benefits, and overall quality of life.
Leaders in the growing, evidence-based field of positive psychology explain purpose and meaning as cornerstones of happiness, flow, optimal experience, and a life well-lived.
Stanford University psychologist William Damon and colleagues (2003) define purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.” Their definition includes three components:
1) In contrast with simple day-to-day objectives, such as getting dinner on the table or driving to work, purpose is “more stable and far reaching”.
2) Purpose involves reaching in some way beyond one’s self.
3) Purpose involves achievement, progress, or completion.
Purpose can awaken us to define goals and ideals that are personally meaningful – to reach beyond ourselves in a way that progressively defines our existence. Purpose does not have specific definitions or boundaries so there are many ways to experience it. It doesn’t matter whether we find our sense of purpose as a volunteer, receptionist, carpenter, teacher, maintenance worker, parent, or physician. It is having a sense of purpose that matters.
With millennials seeking to make their mark in this world and baby-boomers transitioning toward retirement in record numbers, the pursuit of purpose becomes a topic of broad relevance. Seeking purpose and meaning can open doors to greater well-being as we navigate the challenges and opportunities at any stage of our lives. And for those entering their third chapter, perhaps these findings recommend a shift from a retirement of leisure to a retirement of meaning.
Having a purpose – whether large or small, whether we reach the objective or continue to strive for it – informs our existence in very important ways that can impact our physical and mental health and overall well-being.
You are ultimately responsible for asking the questions and finding the answers to what’s meaningful for you in your life, work, and community. If you’d like to access some strategies to help you uncover greater meaning in your life, here’s a free resource with 25 powerful, thought-provoking questions and tips to help you move from contemplation to awareness, and from awareness to action.
- Alimujiang, A., Wiensch, A., Boss, J, Fleischer, N.L., Mondul, A.M., McLean, K., Mukherjee, B., & Pierce, C.L. (2019). Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Network Open, 2(5).
- Berns-Zare, I. (2017). Navigating the second half of life: 7 tips for living with meaning, resilience and joy.
- Berns-Zare, I. (2017). 25 powerful questions for awakening meaning in life and work: A guide to awareness and action.
- Cohen, R., Bavishi, C, & Rosanski, A. (2015). Purpose in life and its relationship to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: a meta-analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 122-133.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
- Damon, W., Menon, J. & Bronk, K.C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
- McKnight, P.E. & Kashdan T.B. (2009). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology 13(3), 242-251.
- Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: NY: Atria Paperback.
Ilene is a Featured Author on PsychologyToday!
Read her blog series Flourish and Thrive: Navigating transitions with mindfulness and resilience.
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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC is an ICF Credentialed Professional Coach, Psychologist, Educator, and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with their strengths, callings and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at http://ileneberns-zare.com.
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