One of the great satisfactions in life is to be fully aware of your life’s purpose. Equally, one of the great sufferings is to be ignorant of it.
Although the latter is far more common, many people give up pursuing their purpose too early. They settle for a small piece of success, or less.
The question, ‘what is your life purpose,’ can overwhelm us with anxiety, self-doubt, and existential angst.
People can become embarrassed and bewildered when the topic arises.
Memories of failed efforts, regrettable life choices can hurtle into consciousness making us reluctant to venture there.
It can feel safer to remain gilded to our habits, psychological patterns, and external structures even if they’re working against our best interests.
And it can feel destabilising and risky to respond to the subtle voice of our inner calling because it almost always wants us to change and grow in an uncomfortable way.
You can resist your life purpose for years or a lifetime, but, as many wisdom-keepers have advised over the centuries, a higher purpose can bring enormous benefits to your very existence and revolutionize your life.
Now medical science is substantiating the old wisdom and proving that life purpose directly impacts health and wellbeing.
Purpose As Medicine
Various studies over the last decade show that a purposeful life positively impacts:
- Psychological well-being
- Healthy brain function
- Cardiovascular health
- Muscle strength
- Sound sleep
The message is clear, life purpose is not something to be pursued at a later time.
Nor is it a luxury or indulgence only available to a talented few.
Life purpose is your unique gift that, when discovered and expressed, brings vitality, meaning, and satisfaction.
— purposeful work enhances cognition
“Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”
Without awareness of a higher goal or purpose, it’s easy to settle into dull routines and attempt to inoculate the accruing boredom with destructive habits.
Florida State University studied 4,963 adults aged 32–34 from 48 states and concluded that boring, repetitive work causes cognitive decline.
The research challenges our centuries-long notion of work as a sacrificial means to a rewarding end.
Pay-checks, bonuses, holidays, status and prestige are not enough. We must have a purpose in the actual DOING of our everyday work if we are to prevent mental and physical decline.
— purpose motivates a healthier lifestyle
“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A 6-year-long study showed that people with a sense of purpose are inspired to become healthy. Focused on a healthy lifestyle, they exercise more, have regular health checkups and monitor their biomarkers.
My friends, clients, and students who live purposeful lives are typical of this study. We tend to consume little or no alcohol, eat a healthy diet, and engage in at least one form of regular exercise.
Greek mythology tells a profound truth; we are all tethered to the archetypes Eros, the instinct to live, and Thanatos, the instinct to perish.
Anyone dedicated to personal growth is possessed by Eros. He/She enjoys the good things in life and resides in a kind of heaven. Anyone dedicated to self-destructive behaviors is possessed by Thanatos. He/She loathes existence and lives in a kind of hell.
The presence and quality of your life purpose can help swing the pendulum towards Eros.
Numerous studies into adolescents show that purpose-orientated living reduces self-destructive behaviors including drug addiction, acts of self-harm and suicide.
Both children and adults become motivated to develop healthy behaviors, untapped skills, and talents when they have a purpose.
— purpose reduces stress and helps sleep
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
After a long day of purposeful activity, whether through engaged work, positive relationships, learning, or self-expression, you are less likely to ruminate and worry in bed.
One study showed that people with a purpose had reduced sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and Restless Leg Syndrome.
Other studies show that good sleep, relaxation, and meditation help the flow of creativity and lateral thinking.
— purpose improves heart-health and longevity
“You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task –what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live.”
— Robert Green
A meta-analysis by the American Psychosomatic Society concluded that “a higher sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for both cardiovascular disease events and all-cause mortality.”
The research, consisting of 10 studies conducted over 7-years, involved 136,000 participants (average age of 67) evaluated the relationship between purpose in life and the risk of death or cardiovascular disease.
Risk of death was about 20% lower for people who reported having a strong sense of purpose. They also had a lower risk of heart attack or stroke.
These and many more research studies reveal that no matter your age, status, or life circumstances, you need a purpose to keep healthy, positive, and satisfied.
Tips To Finding Purpose
“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
― Gabriel García Márquez
- Have faith. Life purpose is not only for a chosen talented few, and it’s not a luxury or indulgence. You were born to live a purposeful life. You need to have faith in yourself, and your unique purpose.
- Reflect and express. Contemplate your purpose on a regular base, and journal your thoughts and feeling, even if you do not yet know your life purpose. Test how much clarity and expression you have regarding life purpose by discussing your purpose with a trusted confidant.
- Seek challenge. If you surrender to dull work, your health and longevity will suffer. Either find new work that has an element of challenge or use your current job as (zen) practice to hone your focus and to create a purposeful work ethic.
- Make yourself strong. See your body-mind as a conduit of purpose. Make yourself strong and supple, a fit servant for purposeful living, (again, even if you do not know your purpose).
- Practice purpose. Build your purpose muscles by engaging in small, enjoyable intentional activities related to your health, connection to self and others, self-expression, skills, and talents. These conscious, deliberate acts will soon take on their own life, and guide you to feel more attuned to your larger purpose.
- Renew purpose. If you lose one purpose, don’t feel compelled to remain in the same area of your previous purpose. Create a whole new purpose. Ensure that you retire with a purpose because (medical science says) purposelessness leads to illness, unhappiness, and early death.
Purpose begins with faith in the value of your life and unique contribution. But faith is often our most difficult challenge because doubt is faith’s constant (shadow) companion. Do what you can to build healthy self-belief and faith in your own existence.
[Article first published on BigShakti.com 26th February 2019]