We all dedicate a large majority of our lives striving towards happiness. We may try to find it through money and material wealth, service to others, love and companionship, or professional success and power. We sometimes turn to artificial means to generate something close to the experience of happiness by using drugs and alcohol, risking our health and wellbeing along the way. Humans tend to participate in other misguided attempts to create joy and satisfaction as well, prompting researchers to look for the definitive key to happiness. A study recently conducted among adults over the age of 50 living in the UK found that the factor most closely tied to authentic happiness is a person’s belief that their life has purpose.
Health Benefits of Purposeful Living
When we think about happiness and what factors may contribute to a person’s sense of wellbeing, there is a long list of logical variables at play. A sense of purpose is unique in that it seems to tie all other variables together, both existing as a result of those variables and perpetuating positive aspects of an individual’s life. For example, studies have found that a sense of purpose is associated with lower rates of heart disease and a longer lifespan. People with purpose-driven lives tend to be more active and exhibit healthier lifestyles, and are more likely to participate in group activities where they establish meaningful bonds.
Relationships are strongly tied to a person’s sense of purpose, and play a large role in mental health outcomes. People who rate their lives high in purpose are more likely to have multiple close relationships, frequently spend time with friends, and belong to a group that provides them with a sense of community, such as a church or volunteer organization. These social ties and activities prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness which can worsen anxiety and depression. As people get older, these ties become increasingly important, and may prevent the onset of age-related difficulties such as chronic pain and trouble completing daily tasks. In recent research, a sense of purpose was shown to literally slow down the aging process for a majority of study participants.
How Do We Get There?
While it can be helpful to understand that purpose is the key to a happy life, living purposefully may be easier said than done. We all face challenges that can put a damper on our wellbeing, and finding purpose can be difficult in especially low points of our lives such as after experiencing a loss, a major financial setback, or addiction. It is important to note that mental health should be a priority when taking on any major obstacle in life. A positive outlook creates a positive outcome, and positivity comes from knowing your purpose. There are a few strategies you can use to find your purpose if you are feeling especially lost or isolated on your journey towards happiness.
We all have people, places, and activities that naturally spark joy within us. These aspects of your life can point you in the direction of your true purpose. Psychological setbacks such as anxiety and depression can cause you to distance yourself from these facets of life, cutting off healthy relationships and avoiding activities that you were once passionate about. Over time, you may even forget what it was that made you feel challenged and motivated in life, and it might seem like those things no longer exist for you. This is when you must push forward, step out of your comfort zone, and try new things. It is human nature to desire brain-stimulating experiences and cultivating new skills. Finding something active or developing an artistic ability will feel like you are finally doing something meaningful. As a bonus, expanding your knowledge and experience usually means meeting new people who are looking to do the same. Connecting with others over shared passions can lead to some of the most fulfilling friendships life has to offer.
When contemplating your purpose, it can also be helpful to look at the big picture by imagining the legacy you would like to leave behind. Nobody enjoys thinking about their own death, but most of us would like to be remembered in a positive light, perhaps with a few accomplishments in our obituaries. Think about how you would like to be remembered by your friends and family, and what dreams you would like to have made a reality. Many people near the end of life report regrets surrounding their relationships with their children and family, and wish they had spent more time with those they love. You may find purpose simply in reflecting on those that love and care for you, and determining how you can improve your relationships with those people going forward.
Developing a sense of purpose can feel impossible in active addiction, but with the right treatment, a fulfilling and purposeful life is possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. Through accountability and commitment to the 12-Steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers, and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing.