Professor says people can ‘feel’ a sense of purpose

At Forward From 50, one of our definitions for purpose is something that motivates people to get out of bed everyday. However, a Missouri professor put a different spin on that concept.

Dr. Patrick Hill, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has studied the idea of purpose for many years. He said people can feel a sense of purpose as though they are drawn to a specific course of action.

He told Everyday Health that purpose does not have to tie into a big life goal. In fact, it can be found in small daily tasks. That’s great news for people who find their physical strength waning or have difficulty maintaining long-term concentration.

A sense of purpose without a large life goal means people still wake up in the morning feeling motivated. But unlike those who have a life goal directing them, someone may attribute their sense of motivation to a smaller reason or even to nothing at all, the website explained.

In other words, people wake up knowing they have something to accomplish today, then get busy doing it.

Whether purpose is of the life-goal variety, just a feeling someone has or somewhere in between, it can be good for health and well-being, Dr. Hill noted.

“You don’t have to be necessarily saving the world,” added Dr. Stacey Schaefer, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Wisconsin — Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds..”Day-to-day tasks like cleaning the house and cooking dinner can feel meaningful. Purpose can come from simply waking up in the morning and having something you want to accomplish for an hour that day.”

I don’t know if cleaning a house will work to build someone’s legacy. However, I think researchers are trying to say simply having a purpose and adjusting it through the different phases of life is often strong enough to have a positive effect on their well-being.

“It doesn’t matter what age you’re at, whether you’re 20, 30, 40, 60 or 70,” said Dr. Schaefer. “Those people who have a higher purpose in life are less likely to be dead when followed up.”

She cited a study in 2009 published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that found people with higher levels of purpose in life when the study began were more likely to be alive five years later than those with lower levels of purpose.

That means even factoring in things like disease, accidents, suicide or other considerations, simply having a sense of purpose seems to be protective and promote longevity, she added.

Dr. Hill identified three pathways to finding purpose, including:

  • Be proactive. That means not sitting on the couch waiting for inspiration to strike, but actually working to make something happen.
  • Learning from others. Reading Forward From 50’s inspirational profiles of go-getters over 50 who are pursuing new direction in life would be a great start.
  • Reflect. We say this all the time. The dream you buried decades ago may have been your soul hinting at the purpose you were specifically created to perform.

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