The Quest for Life Purpose
Over the years your purpose in life may have been very clear. There was a career to develop or a family to raise. Maybe the focus was to be financially stable throughout your lifetime. Perhaps you were more altruistic and found your purpose in helping others. For many of us life moves too fast to develop a plan for life purpose. The question then becomes – what happens when many of your life purpose goals are complete? You raised your kids; you have met your financial goals and you retire. What drives you to get up each morning and engage in your day? What’s next?
Life Purpose Defined
How is life purpose defined? Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist and researcher for the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, defines purpose in life as this: “It’s the sense that your life has meaning. You’re engaged in things that energize and motivate you, and you think you are important on a broader level, beyond just yourself.” (www.wsj.com) Why is life purpose important? Why does retirement act as a catalyst to even think about these things?
Throughout our work life we might have been clear on our life purpose. We trained for our career, we took on the responsibilities of family. We felt content in our life path. Don’t get me wrong, there are many people who never experience this type of contentment. They go through life searching for their purpose. Retirement for both groups can still have a daunting feeling of being lost. Why is it so important to actually find and live your life purpose?
From a brain function perspective having purpose in life is decidedly protective. Dr. Boyle’s research has revealed that “those who reported having purpose in life showed a 30% slower rate of cognitive decline than those who did not. Having purpose reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s and its precursor – mild cognitive impairment. Even those with plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s had better cognitive function. It’s a remarkable finding.” (www.wsj.com)
The Blue Zones
Studies of the Blue Zones (communities in the world in which people likely live past 100) by Dan Buettner found that one of the factors that most centenarians share is a strong sense of purpose. A study in 2008 of Japanese men found that a lower level of purpose was associated with earlier death and cardiovascular disease. And purpose can positively affect pain management. Why would this be important in longevity? Older people have more incidents of chronic disease and pain issues can really decrease the quality of our lives.
When you have your life purpose in mind you actually exhibit more resilience. Purpose can offer a psychological buffer against obstacles. A person with a strong sense of purpose remains satisfied with life even while exhibiting a difficult day. Studies indicate that this kind of long-term resilience can lead to better cardiovascular health, less worry, and greater happiness over time (www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu).
Life Purpose and Retirement
How does life purpose affect retirement? Dan Buettner states that the two most vulnerable times in a person’s life are the first twelve months after birth and the year following retirement. You may have even heard stories of perfectly healthy men who died shortly after they retired from a lifelong career. Researchers suspect that for these men, the end of their career also signified the end of their purpose in life. A study of retired employees found that men and women who retired early (age 55) were more likely to die early than those who retires at age 65. Studies like this indicate that there may be some risk in only finding meaning in a career. There is huge importance in finding ways to continue serving purpose even after retirement to improve chances of a longer, healthier life (www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu).
There can be analysis paralysis if you find yourself in this situation. Just the words – ‘life plan’ can be overwhelming. Where do you start to find your purpose? Richard Leider, author of the book The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Long, Better, has six tips for living the life you love:
· Don’t let yourself “rust out”: This is Leider’s term for what happens when we are gridlocked by life’s circumstances. “Whenever you are not challenged by your life, whenever you feel like you are just going through the motions, it’s time to rethink your purpose.”
· Push the pause button: “Too often, we allow the busy-ness of our lives to hijack our sense of purpose. We are so caught up doing what we have to do, we lose track of what we really want to do.” Now is the time to reboot your operating system. Take a 12-hour fast of all media. Sit quietly and breathe deeply. Your heart and mind will stop racing and you will have more time to look inward and consider what is most important to you.
· Define your life passion: “Think about what gets you up in the morning and – keeps you up at night. I’m not talking about worries and anxieties, but rather interests and activities that excite and motivate you, or the causes you’d like to know more about and participate in” says Leider.
· Draw your life map: To create your map, cut out pictures from magazines, download online images that calm you, inspire you, spur you into action, make you happy and represent your life goals and dreams.
· Identify your brain trust: Going alone without input from others can actually keep you stuck. Ideally, you would have at least one person you can count on just to listen when you need to work through options in your mind. You need another person to act as a catalyst, spurring you to take action.
· Take it in stages: Putting purpose into action demands motivation, courage and patience. What if taking a big step is too far out of your comfort zone? The answer Start Small. “Purpose evolves as interests and experiences change, and as you move through different ages and stages,” notes Leider. Identify one thing you can do every day to make your corner of the world a better place. “Once you clarified your purpose, you discover new passions,” says Leider.
Live the Life You Love! By Margery D. Rosen, Jan 11, 2012
There is no greater joy than living your authentic life. There is no age limit – top or bottom – that keeps you from discovering your purpose and your passion.
Cole, D. (January 13, 2013). Why you need a mission. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323316804578163501792318298
Rosen, M. (January 11, 2012). Live the life you love! Retrieved from http://www.aarp.org/personal-growth/transitions/info-06-2011/5-weeks-ep5-purpose.html
University of Minnesota. Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing. Why is life purpose important? Retrieved from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/purpose/life-purpose/why-life-purpose-important