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Purpose, Courage and COVID19

How can we feel a part of something larger than ourselves and have a positive, beneficial impact on the well-being of others?

It won’t be a surprise to you to know that social isolation is a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality. In fact research published in 1988 by House, Landis, and Umberson and subsequent research in 2010 by Holt-Lunstad, Smith and Layton has established that social isolation is as strong a risk factor for morbidity and mortality as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and high blood pressure. Stanford University Graduate School of Business in a current post on rethinking “purpose,” also observed that physical isolation is associated with reduced meaning, lower well-being and higher rates of morbidity. We need to connect and find ways to courageously step forward and contribute for the benefit of others, and ourselves as well.

How can we feel a part of something larger than ourselves and have a positive, beneficial impact on the well-being of others? How can we express our strengths and fervently pursue our emotional appetites? How can we create a sense of belonging and avoid stagnating, to move forward toward consequential purposes?

While we cannot escape massive and mundane negative experiences in life, these encounters may confer “hidden benefits to our well-being and offer enhanced meaning in life,” according to Vohs, Aaker, and Catapano in a 2019 article in Current Opinion in Psychology. Authors Jennifer Aaker, Andy Smith and Carlye Adler, in their 2010 book, The Dragonfly Effect, suggest four tips on how to increase your well-being while being of service to others:

1. Set a clear, concrete, achievable goal and aim for sustainable, concrete impact.

2. Tap into your own unique blend of assets, your idiosyncratic skills and passions.

3. Make it fun, playful without playing to win, and definitely social.

4. Build an open enjoyable opportunity for others to engage with you, a clear accessible entry path for others, where no one has to ask permission to join in.

It may seem like only those on the so-called “frontlines” of dramatic emergency room medicine “fighting” coronavirus are the brave heroes of today. No. They’re not. You can also find avenues in which you can express your purpose in this drama, a lane through which you can make your contribution to this time of life, but it takes courage.

Robert Biswas-Diener, author of the 2012 “The Courage Quotient”noted, “Being able to take courageous action is one of the most important, useful, and exciting aspects of being human.” During this time of confused, conflicted, emotionally traumatic excitement, indeed, theater, of COVID-19, having the courage to express our purpose will help us live the way we want despite external turmoil. Courage is the “psychological fuel we need to create, take risks, help others and face hard times,” according to Biswas-Diener. Socrates also observed that one is courageous “whose spirit retains in pleasure and in pain the commands of reason about what s/he ought or ought not to fear.” 

If we are desire to live up to our potential and experience a full life even during the strain and pressures of COVID-19, we would wisely nurture our “willingness to act and our ability to control fear,” the two elements that Biswas-Diener theorizes are the elements of courage. Curbing our fears and cultivating our ability to take action, sounds like just the right medicine we can all benefit from right now.

Our brain acts in inhibitory and activating ways to help us tread cautiously and to step forward. While these systems help us move through life, it appears those with higher levels of courage during times of danger, like the present, are better at distinguishing when to work at controlling fear and when to act. Those who will flourish during COVID-19 are better able to control their fears, and choose courageous positive, impactful, purposeful roles through which to take action, even in the face of potential or inevitable failure. This takes us back to your meaningful purpose.

What will you, courageously, do to help another through this difficult time? What’s inspiring you that you’d like to do but have held yourself back due to fear? 

James Dean, the actor, said, “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” What’s the impact you want your life to have during this time period? Those with courage to live a life of their purpose regardless of external alarms, are those who fearlessly make meaningful differences in the lives of others. James Keller has been quoted as saying, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” You only gain by stepping out of your fear and being willing to act.

When you lay down to go to sleep tonight, review an accomplishment about which you were proud and passionate, one where you felt good about having stepped forward and achieved. That’s you, courageously living your purpose.

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