A Purpose-filled Life and Well-being

The scientific literature suggests that there are both short-term and long-term mental, emotional, and physical benefits to having a purpose-filled life including, but not limited to, increased lifespan, improved health behaviors, better social connections, more gratitude and optimism, and even sustained cognitive health. The big question becomes, what constitutes a purpose-filled life, followed by a deep sigh that whispers--that sounds a bit daunting. Purpose can come in many forms and provides fuel, a direction, and perhaps something upon which to focus that guides us outside of ourselves, and expands our understanding of being well.

The Blue Zones researchers who identified the places in the world in which people live to 100 or more in the greatest number, reported that centenarians were more likely to have goals and activities that were other-focused. A story in the Blue Zones book talks of one centenarian who walked to town every day to gather food for the evening meal and then prepared the meal; this guided his daily purpose, also providing an opportunity to love and care for the family members for whom the meal was prepared. People at any age who are more self-focused are reportedly less happy, more socially isolated, and have lower levels of well-being. Health research data also demonstrated that people who said “I” the most on a daily basis, died of a heart attack at a significantly higher rate when compared with those who used “I” the least. Another study found that people who scored high on a scale that measured life’s purpose, were less likely to die during the four years of the data collection.

We can experience purpose in real time through rewarding work, regular volunteer activities, contributions in a social setting, projects, studies and learning, creating, spiritual beliefs in action, and connecting with others through loving, caring and acts of kindness. People with a purpose-filled life can be more resilient and operate with grit as they endeavor forward, not losing sight of their aim. The positive effects and experiences of a purpose-filled life may improve our ability to choose health enhancing behaviors from the perspective of valuing the vessel through which we live and continue to thrive in our purpose. Maintaining and prioritizing health in this way, is a means to an end—stay in the purpose, enjoy the journey, take care of the vessel. We find that the science and practice of well-being once again supports the integration of the many facets of human functioning; as we lead with purpose, we capitalize on another available opportunity to maximize our existence.