News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Living with purpose

When we live our lives according to personally meaningful values and goals — especially those that transcend self-interest — happiness usually follows.

I love being silly with my granddaughters, following their lead in our play. I enjoy their always-changing, funny selves. Recently I decided that one of my life’s purposes was to dance with my granddaughters at their weddings. Since Charlee, Lizzy, and Luna are 4 years, 3 years, and 2 months old, respectively, and I am 68, my goal could be aspirational.

To dance in my 90s, I will need self-discipline and persistence. Cultivating these values will enable me to maintain my physical and mental fitness and to bounce back from adversity, such as an injury or a prolonged illness.

Gratitude and expressing appreciation to those who bring happiness and joy to my life will best support my ongoing emotional wellness.

I will continue to strengthen my social fitness by trimming away expectations and beliefs that limit my ability to deepen my connections to others.

I must also resist the impulse to define myself by my age. There’s a fellow skiing at Mt. Bachelor who is in his 90s—why couldn’t that be me?

I have discovered a very helpful tool to support my purpose: the Healthy Minds app.

Through experiential learning, the Healthy Minds app demonstrates how to improve focus and attention, deepen connections, identify expectations and beliefs that prevent us from being fully present with others, and clarify our life’s purpose(s) as well as how to align our goals with heartfelt values.

Having a sense of purpose can mean the difference between life and death.

In one study of 20-to-70-year olds, those with a strong sense of purpose were more likely to be alive 10 years later than individuals with a low sense of purpose, regardless of their age at the start of the study or whether they had a chronic condition or disease.

Strong purpose predicted increased activity levels, decreased incidence of stroke, lowered the risk of cardiovascular events, decreased healthcare utilization, and even improved financial health. Strong sense of purpose was linked to improved memory, better executive function, and overall cognitive ability.

Individuals with strong purpose are also more resilient, able to recover more quickly from adversity.

A study of more than 25,000 young adults from 58 countries found that intrinsically meaningful values related to the importance of social connections and civic engagement were more strongly associated with well-being than extrinsic values related to power and financial gain, although the nature of these relationships varied across countries.

Extrinsic materialistic values have been associated with lower levels of well-being, and there is an especially strong association to risky health behaviors and economic decisions.

When our purpose is to get rich, to become famous or powerful, we will discover that our happiness waxes and wanes with our fortunes. But a sense of purpose built upon meaningful values will always point us toward our “true north.”

Researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison suggest a four-step process to clarify our purpose:

1. Reflect on what is truly meaningful to you. Identify the values that motivate you. Infuse even the most mundane tasks with these values.

2. Pause between activities: create an intention to apply your values throughout the day, in every area of your life.

3. Reframe a challenging situation by reminding yourself of your purpose and values; discover a new perspective with which to view a problem and to find meaning in adversity.

4. Lead by example—every day take small steps aligned with your purpose. Over time even small steps can make a big difference.

You might also try this exercise (paraphrased from Healthy Minds app).

Think of individuals whom you greatly admire. What purpose guides their life? How does this purpose reflect their deeply held values? In what manner are these people like you? How can you use this reflection to identify your purpose, your true north? How might you align your behavior with your goals and values?

Your purpose may lie in raising healthy children, caring for aging parents, supporting friends, or helping to improve your neighborhood or community. You may feel compelled to tackle larger issues such as social justice or climate change.

Whatever your purpose, trust your inner compass to keep you on a steady course toward your true north.



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