“For a tree to become tall…
it must grow tough roots among the rocks.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” —Robert Bryne
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” —George Bernard Shaw
Philosophers, scholars, progressive thinkers, writers and poets from Socrates onward have written eloquently about the benefits of living a life of purpose. Arecent study from Carlton University in Canada found that people who have a sense of purpose have greater longevity. The findings indicate that creating “a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.” The study examined data from more than 6,000 people, including their self-reported level of purpose in life, across a 14-year follow-up period.
Not surprisingly, a sense of purpose was found to also bring this benefit regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. Additionally, the benefits held up even after other indicators of well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
I often advise my patients to find something they are passionate about, as the French say, une raison d’être, a reason to get up every day. Some of my patients, especially those whom have experienced serious health challenges may stare back at me lost, confused and simply tired not knowing where to begin. I remind them that purpose is not the same as happiness; whereas happiness fluctuates with daily life events (i.e, sickness, a bad day at work, or car trouble), one’s unique life purpose is more of an underlying sense of soul fulfillment; a calm, often quiet feeling of doing the right thing that transcends life’s disappointments or successes. When we are living in accordance with our life’s purpose, we may encounter the ups and downs of happiness along the way but they don’t permanently distract us from our larger vision.
So how do you discover, if not create, your unique and authentic sense of purpose?
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” —Albert Einstein
- Time Out – Take some well-deserved “me” time to discover a new hobby or interest you may be keeping on the back-burner. Ask yourself, what makes you feel alive? Your purpose might be right in front of your eyes but you can’t see it because you aren’t looking inward. Your gut or your instincts might recognize a dormant, unfulfilled passion.
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” —Dolly Parton
- Quiet the mind – In this technology driven and fast moving world, it’s difficult to shut off thoughts about that upcoming meeting, trip, or dinner plans, and focus on you. Write a list of your essential to do tasks then set it safely aside knowing that you can confidently take a temporary break without fear of forgetting something important. Meditation is a great way to tune in to yourself and listen to your inner guide.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” —Rumi
- Pursue the Pull – If something tugs at your heart or keeps nagging at you until you take the plunge to begin to pursue it, don’t hesitate. Pursue it vigorously, with great intent, whether it’s something material or spiritual. Identify what you can do each day that brings you closer to the target. The feedback your actions give to your sense of well-being is your best guidance.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”—Pema Chödrön
- Make a Mistake, Learn from It – Your “successes” or “failures” over the years tell you where you’ve been in harmony with yourself — or not. Lessons from your good and bad life experiences may reveal: what you have been trying to express throughout your life, directly or indirectly; what longings you may have hidden; your inner vision; and the areas in which you have gone “off-track” from your true purpose.
“…don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” —Steve Jobs
- Create a Tangible Vision – Create a vision of what your emerging sense of purpose looks like. Imagine it’s a powerful magnet that’s pulling you along a path towards it. Trust how you feel not what your mind says.
“It is never too late to become what you might have been.” —George Elliot
Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age, according to new research. The research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development. From first careers to retirement plans, you have all the time you need.
For more information on the articles mentioned, please feel free to visit http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/05/06/0956797614531799 and http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27393057.