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Each of us can remember a day when we jumped out of bed, enthused by a major project or big event. We hold crisp memories of the glow of excitement, a palpable physical experience. For good reason. When we live with purpose, we are rewarded with health and happiness.
Research programs focused on identifying the drivers of human happiness and success consistently show that a life of purpose is one of the two pillars of emotional WHealth. The other is Social Engagement. The Grant Study and the parallel Glueck Study, both conducted by Harvard scientists, followed men from a range of socio-economic and educational backgrounds for more than 75 years. The results are conclusive. When we focus on our role as contributors in society, we are rewarded with longevity, health and happiness.
Maslow recognized this when he described his hierarchy of needs. The highest level attained by humans is self-transcendence. It is a grand human ideal; a sense of belonging to something bigger and more important than ourselves. It is profoundly motivating and rewarding. Picture some of the world’s greatest adventurers and heros. The Wright brothers were determined to see humans fly. Mandela, King and Ghandi were determined to bring social justice to their worlds. Nobel scientists strive to advance the frontiers of our knowledge. Each was driven by an inspired purpose. They have changed the world.
Purpose means different things to each one of us. We don’t all have to solve for world peace or to invent the next digital era. It could be that we want to be the very best contributor at work, helping colleagues to do well, and achieving the common goal. It could be that we are focused on having a happy family. We might devote ourselves to the life of a religious or social community. We may have a great artistic talent that we cultivate to bring joy to others.
Purpose implies a sense of intentionality. We have a goal that is bigger than ourselves that we are passionate about. It drives us and gives us meaning. When we live purposefully, we know that our daily activities matter. We feel good about our past, and enjoy making plans for the future.
Happy people often volunteer in service of environmental or humanitarian causes that inspire them. Research shows that the sense of humility and comfort we feel when we recognize that we are part of a greater entity such as nature and humanity increases both empathy and gratitude.
Not surprisingly, Mother Nature has found a way to reward purpose. For success as a species, we must be true to her ideals for us – to nurture our young, and to collaborate and contribute to our fellow human beings. So, when we do this with purpose, she rewards us with WHealth, and we flourish.
Purpose has been shown to prolong life, while improving physical and mental health. For example, a purposeful life reduces the risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 50% and 30% respectively in our latter years. That’s a huge impact in two debilitating conditions! It’s not yet entirely clear how purpose rewards us from a biological perspective. On the one hand, it seems logical that purposeful individuals lead healthier lives. When your life has meaning, it is easier to heed the abundant advice that surrounds us all, directing us towards healthy behavior. Life is more valuable and we take the big decisions that affect our health more seriously.
Emerging evidence suggests that purpose also acts directly on the foundational building blocks of BodyWHealth. Like exercise and weight control, purpose appears to have some beneficial impact on the inflammatory balance and immune systems. Purposeful living is also associated with better quality sleep, and better control of stress. With these associated benefits, it is not surprising that Purposefulness drives BodyWHealth.
A sense of purpose has inspired great men and women across the ages to achieve enormous feats. For good reason, these inspiring contributors are rewarded with both personal fulfillment and warm global recognition. More than this, purpose has the power to enhance each of our lives, unlocking the chemistry of physical and emotional health, and building WHealth.
Author Mark Twain accurately captures the immense value of a life of purpose:
“The two most important days in your life are the day that you are born and the day you find out why.”