Three Ways to Find Purpose

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10 min

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Do you think you have a clear sense of purpose in life? Do you think you need one?

A sense of purpose helps you develop a durable state of well-being. This is called eudaimonic well-being, and it's very different from hedonic well-being (what most people just call happiness), which is fleeting, says Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Watching your favorite movie can bring momentary happiness. But spending time with your kids can give you a deeper sense of satisfaction and meaning. That sense of purpose comes with many benefits.

Studies show that when you live a meaningful life, you reduce your risk of conditions such as heart attack, stroke, disability, and dementia. You're also more likely to experience better sleep and visit a doctor for preventative health services. Eudaimonic well-being seems to have a protective effect that extends into various parts of a person's life.

If you don't have a clear meaning in life, you can establish one. Hone your sense of purpose by following these strategies.

1. Engage in Meaning-Centered Conversations

In 2015, a team of experts, including Psychiatrist William Breitbart and Psychologist Barry Rosenfeld, studied the well-being of cancer patients in group therapy. Their research showed that talking about existential topics — such as accomplishments, goals, and self-identify — increased the patients' desire to live and reduced feelings of hopelessness.

Those results were similar to a 2006 study of well-being therapy programs in schools. The study showed that encouraging students to talk about positive emotions and experiences helped them build emotional resilience.

2. Take Other-Focused Action

Taking proactive steps to help others can give you a sense of purpose and have positive effects on your health. A 2013 study of 10th graders who volunteered to help younger students showed that the volunteers benefited from reduced risk of cardiovascular problems. During the course of their volunteer work, their body mass indexes, levels of inflammation, and cholesterol profiles dropped to healthier ranges.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine took a look at the effects of tutoring on well-being. They found that tutors working in an Experience Corps program benefited from increased self-esteem and social connectedness. Physically, they experienced increased mobility and stamina. These benefits extended to the students as well.

3. Remember It's a Process, Not a Moment

Of course, the examples of tutoring and volunteering won't be fulfilling experiences for everyone. Searching for a purpose can be a long process and might even involve some trial and error. You'll need to examine your own values and then find ways to live out those values as you help people around you.

Searching for meaning in life can be beneficial for everyone, regardless of age. But it's especially important for people who are going through transitional periods. If you're starting a job, preparing for retirement, or helping your children move out, be sure to center yourself with a sense of purpose.

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