More medical evidence having purpose improves well-being

Medical News Today published an article last week in which researchers said finding meaning in life, however someone defines it, can significantly benefit their well-being.

We’ve been saying that from Day One on Forward From 50. Having a specific purpose motivates people to get up in each morning and contribute to make the world better, especially if that purpose involves serving others.

“As we age, a sense of mattering may become more important to individuals, perhaps to placate fears of one’s mortality alongside other age-related concerns,” said Joshua Hicks, professor of social and personality psychology at Texas A&M University.

I don’t see how having a sense of purpose works to pacify a fear of mortality. If you are afraid of death or fear getting older, having a purpose will not allay those fears. However, I agree with Professor Hicks that pursuing purpose makes life seem worthwhile.

It also helps people believe their lives mattered. Their lives may have started poorly due to their upbringing or things which happened to them beyond their control, like abuse. Yet, pouring themselves into a cause or purpose that involves helping others, will convey the knowledge their lives truly mattered.

People are not likely to remember someone’s wealth. In fact, an inheritance will probably be spent on something quickly forgotten or co-mingled with other funds so the benefactor’s role in providing the money is not remembered long-term.

However, make a difference in people’s lives by helping them at critical moments or providing special attention when they need it most, and you will never fade from that person’s mind. They may even credit your influence in their lives when talking to others.

Rebecca Schlegel, another professor of social and personality psychology at Texas A&M, missed a critical point when she noted, “I think searching (for meaning), but feeling like you didn’t come up with a satisfying answer can actually backfire.”

If you simply asked friends or relatives what the meaning for or purpose of your life should be, you may get lots of helpful advice, but walk away even more confused over the lack of clarity. Of course, Rebecca is a public university instructor approaching the issue from an entirely secular viewpoint. 

For example, “someone may search for a cosmic or ultimate meaning and end up feeling disappointed. By comparison, looking for the beauty in everyday life can help you experience a successful search for meaning,” she told Medical News Today.

As a consolation for not finding a purpose or meaning to their lives, she encourages people to simply look for beauty in everyday life. So, watching a sunset gives your life meaning?

Hogwash. The answer to what to do with your life does not lie with the question or the person seeking an answer, but with the being to which the question is posed.

If you ask God, he will know with certainty what you were created to do at this stage of your life. All you need to do is have a conversation, listen for his answer and act upon it. In fact, I suspect Jesus would be happy to have an in-depth conversation with you.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me,” Jesus is quoted as saying in Revelation 3:20.

It’s not as though you can visit, enter your name and birthdate, then download a plan for your life in 15 minutes. It will require a significant investment of time to peel back the onion and uncover what lies at the center of your heart.

There is no need to stare at a sunset, watch ocean waves, look at the Milky Way or gaze at your navel to find meaning for your life. Remember, you were equipped with specific talents and superpower abilities in some area. Your experiences from birth until today have uniquely prepared you for a vibrant second half of life.

The article cited several other scholars who claimed people were motivated to help people only to appease a higher power or to receive a reward in the afterlife.

Those rewards are certainly possible, but serving others to get a reward or not be scolded by a higher power seems very superficial and even childish. When a teenager takes out the garbage, it’s not out of a sense of purpose, but because he’s accountable to his parents and he may get paid for doing the chore.

That’s why, when it comes to life purpose, I don’t think those selfish motives are enough to inspire people to move forward after turning 50.

People pursing a specific purpose to help others know, deep in their hearts, their very reason for being on earth at this specific time and in that specific place is to make a difference in the lives of others — and they’re excited to do so.

Professor Hicks noted the current state of the world is not very conducive to a personally meaningful existence. “War, eco-anxiety, pandemics and political polarization can all disrupt our sense of meaning,” he explained.

He’s right! That’s proof positive why people over 50 need to shut off their televisions, logout of social media, put down the newspaper and go to work making their little part of the world a better place rather than dwelling on how awful it is.

Like Ben Franklin once said, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

The full story is available at Medical News Today.