Purpose and Meaning in Life

Purpose And Meaning In Life

I took another course on Coursera, this time about purpose and meaning in life.

The course starts with the underlying idea in the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I read this book and I totally recommend it to you. Basically Viktor noticed in the nazi concentration camps that those who lacked a purpose perished. “Woe to him saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost”.

In the meanwhile research has been done and people noticed that having life purposes increases likelihood of: resilience, DNA repair, antibody production, longevity, sleep improvement, diet improvement, A1C (blood test for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes) management, more money. Further, having a life purpose decreases the likelihood of: cognitive conflict, fear response, inflammation, depression, stroke, heart attack, alzheimer’s disease, job burnout.

Having a purpose can help someone in these areas:

– work (balance and meaningful work)

– school (design principles for life and early career)

– family (purposeful unit for individuals and communities)

– aging (repurposing after retirement)

– chronic physical/mental health (“why” of self-management)

– trauma and grief (growth from adversity).

There is also a web/mobile app discussed: Purposeful by Kumanu. I browsed this app and the most interesting things that I found were a couple of questions that helped me find my purpose in life. These questions are:

What matters most? 

Who relies on you? 

Who inspires you? 

What causes do you care about? 

What are you grateful for? 

What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

How do you want to be remembered?

What is your purpose in life?

Answering these questions one by one and writing the answer down easily helped me find my purpose in life. Ironically, now I see my purpose as obvious although I was not really aware of it.

There are other interesting facts about purpose in life discussed in this course and I’m gonna name just a few:

– it has been proven that having a purpose in life acts like a buffer for stressors (what causes stress) and thus generates resilience

– it has been noticed that people who suffered childhood abuse suffer more adult depressive symptoms. In the case of people with a purpose in life these depressive symptoms are lower than in the case without a purpose. Again having a purpose in life builds up resilience in front of childhood abuse.

There is discussed also the idea of posttraumatic growth, evidentiated by these ideas:

– I changed my priorities about what is important in life

– I established a new path for my life

– I discovered that I’m stronger than I thought I was.

So going through trauma while having a purpose can actually help you redefine your life.

The things discussed above are so called psychological pathways.

There are also behavioural pathways like:

– purpose in life causes behaviour change which helps health outcomes and in the end increases longevity. It has been proven that people with a purpose in life live longer.

A side effect of having a purpose in life is making more money. The explanation for this situation is purpose confers a future time orientation, allowing us to consider longer-term outcomes and prioritize steps that help us achieve those outcomes.

There is also the third pathway: the biological pathway. It has been shown via studies that people with hedonic values and purpose (money, fame, power and so on) have more pro-inflammatory responses which can cause all sorts of issues and lower antibodies. Compared with people with eudaimonic values and purpose (empathy, friendship, love and so on) which have less pro-inflammatory responses and higher antibodies.

So the bottom line is that having a purpose is better for your life but only if it is a self transcending purpose (purposes like being a visionary leader, an empathetic  teacher, a loving parent, a healer and so on). Self enhancing purposes (the opposite of self transcending ones) sound like: being rich, being powerful, having a certain status, looking attractive and so on.

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