Most of my life I never really thought about my purpose. In school I knew my
purpose was to make the most of my experience and learn skills so I could secure gainful employment. After graduation I threw myself into my career.
After a decade of working, a marriage and the birth of two children, I decided to leave corporate America and be a stay at home mom. Once I left the corporate word I was lost. I did not have a purpose. I know my purpose should have been to be a great mom to my children, and eventually that was part of my purpose. But because I did not consciously made that decision, (I left because life was getting too crazy and my company offered a buyout), I was adrift for several months. Then luckily I got involved in a few organizations and I had a purpose again – to help other moms make the transition to being home and to help all moms (including myself) be the best parent they can be regardless of whether they worked full, part time or stayed at home.
You can probably think of other similar situations when someone lost their job, a professional athlete needed to stop playing due to an injury, or someone retires. They can be lost without that purpose. It can lead to aimlessness, depression or worse. Having a job does not mean you have a purpose. Getting through the day or putting in the time so you can pay the bills is not a purpose. A purpose is generally a vision outside of yourself. It is a statement of direction, something that you want to achieve. It is not necessarily measurable, in that way it is different than a goal. It becomes a source from which to evaluate circumstances, relationships, and issues that surface in your daily life. You may have more than one purpose and it may change over time.
Organizations cannot be successful without a well-defined purpose, yet individuals rarely give it a second thought. Only a small percentage of people take the time to define their purpose.
But taking the time to define your purpose has many benefits. It gives you a reason to feel good about getting up each day. Being clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing is essential to motivate and sustain you. And it’s good for your health.
A recent study by, Patrick Hill, an assistant professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada concluded just that – having a purpose is good for your health. The goal of the study was to find out if having a sense of purpose had an effect on aging and adult development. In fact, it did. People with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death, compared with those who said they were more or less aimless.[i] And it didn't seem to matter when people found their direction. It could be in their 20's, 50's or 70's. Hill defines purpose as providing something like a "compass or lighthouse that provides an overarching aim and direction in day-to-day lives." Other studies have shown having a purpose is linked with a lower risk of stoke in older adults[ii] and was also associated with reduced risk of heart attacks. [iii]
The beginning of the new year is often a time when you take stock of your life, reflect on the past year, and plan for the coming year. I would strongly encourage you to take the time to define your purpose. It can make all the difference, because a healthy life is grounded in a meaningful life.
Valorie Bender, CWPM
[i] Krause, N. (2009). Meaning in life and mortality. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 64B(4), 517–527, doi:10.1093/geronb/gbp047. Advance Access publication on June 10, 2009.
[ii] Kim, E., Sun, J., Park, N., Peterson, C., (2013). Purpose in life and reduced incidence of stroke in older adults: ‘The Health and Retirement Study’. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.01.013
[iii] Kim, E., Sun, J., Park, N., Peterson, C., Kubzansky, L., (2012). Purpose in life and reduced risk of myocardial infarction among older U.S. adults with coronary heart disease: a two-year follow-up. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 10.1007/s10865-012-9406-4