You are here: The 6 Healthy Habits › Life Purpose
Studies show that we all have a need for meaning in our lives.
It's vital to our health and well-being that we maintain strong feelings of self-worth, empowerment, and being valued.
For some people, life purpose is a spiritual concept, or has a religious dimension as part of a 'divine plan.'
For others it's a more worldly notion, a need to be valued as a member of their family or group.
Not everyone seems to feel the need for a 'philosophy' of life purpose, but we all need to be needed.
Our life has to matter.
As you mature through the stages of your life, experiencing various levels of psychological, emotional and ultimately 'spiritual' growth, you may come to think more deeply about your life purpose, and find yourself yearning for deeper levels of understanding.
But there's no need to overreach. Whatever your 'level' now, it's where you belong at this moment.
Don't push the river, it flows by itself. When you're ready, 'the teacher will appear.'
The problem is so many of us experience times in our lives feeling that we're stuck in a rut, going nowhere, drifting without direction. When you become bored with your life and feel like you're accomplishing nothing, just 'vegetating,' you can begin to wonder what is the point of it all?Top
When you've no sense of life purpose, no goals to animate you, you're prey to destructive feelings. Boredom and listlessness can give way to despair, hopelessness, depression and anxiety. While it's healthy to be open to all our natural feelings, prolonged experience of these negative states can over time destroy your mental and physical health.
Of course we all go through periods in negative states. It's easy enough to get stuck in a rut. Mostly we deal with it, get over it and get on with our lives. We all have our moments.
But ruts can be powerful, and long-lived. They can sneak up on you until they're so strong you find yourself trapped. For a while you don't even realized you're in a rut. You get so wrapped up in your 'business as usual' routines that you're oblivious to your gradually developing malaise.
Then suddenly one day you realize that you no longer have any real passion for anything, nothing excites you and your life seems aimless. Your world has become monotonous, dreary and uninspiring.
You feel like you're spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
You become frustrated with everything. The whole thing can be especially distressing if it's compounded by intractable problems at work or at home.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of being stuck in a rut, that is of losing your sense of life purpose, are all too common, and easily recognizable. Your energy level drops dramatically. You start to become undecided and confused about what to do. At work or at home, going through the motions - playing the game - becomes more important than achieving results.
You stop taking care of yourself - you put on weight, don't groom yourself the way you used to, have trouble sleeping, get sick easily. Worst of all you realize you no longer have goals, dreams or plans. It's enough trouble just getting through each day. And you don't really care.
Ruts can happen without warning to even the most optimistic of people. It's important to recognize when you're in a rut, and to know how to get out of it.Top
The thought of actually trying to 'find your life purpose' may seem overwhelming at first, even a bit scary. That's because we've been led to believe that it's about discovering some special and unique gift that each of us is supposed to have, and then somehow working out what we're meant to do with that gift.
In other words, we each exist for a specific predestined reason, and have been 'given' a specific talent or ability to enable us to fulfill this life purpose. Put in those terms, it's no wonder the idea of finding your life purpose is intimidating. Where do you start? What happens if you try really hard and can't figure it out? What if you get it wrong and spend the rest of your days 'working on the wrong life purpose?'
Fortunately, there's no need for such questions. It's true that you're gifted, unique and special. But the search for life purpose is far more straightforward than you might expect. Getting it wrong, over and over, is part of the process. It's how we grow.
Let's start at the beginning. From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, the ultimate purpose of life is to sustain life. To 'sustain life,' means much more than just to survive and reproduce. Survival requires constant growth.
Nature doesn't stand still; change is the only constant. This is a fundamental law that we can't avoid, and so we experience change constantly, within and around us, throughout our lives. To change is to either grow and survive or to decay and die. We can't just mark time; there's no pause or standby button in life.
We humans don't just grow physically. We also experience 'inner growth.' We grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. And we grow 'socially:' community cohesion is vital for group survival. We're genetically imprinted for BOTH inner growth AND social kindness. The needs to grow and to give were essential elements to our evolutionary survival strategy, along with superior intelligence and consciousness. Early humans had gradually learned the wisdom, in survival terms, of personal growth and of helping someone today because you might need help tomorrow. Our individual genes and social customs evolved accordingly.
Through our inner growth as individuals, we collectively contribute to the advancement of humankind as a whole. Together we create the future of humanity.
The greater your individual growth, the more significant and far-reaching will be the positive influence of your energy on those around you. Through them in turn, your reach extends indefinitely, ever rippling outwards. In no sense is any life meaningless. We all impact those around us. The quality and reach of our individual energy is what differs. You give to the world in accordance the quality of energy you project. As you grow, this energy becomes more subtle, refined and positive. And more powerful.
Inner growth, then, is crucial. It is crucial to our definition of purpose; it is crucial to our capacity for giving (the other dimension of our purpose); and as we fully explore on this website, it is crucial to health. How then, do we optimize our inner growth?
Trees grow. So do cats and crayfish, eels and elephants. Growth is natural to life. Living things simply grow in accordance with the genetic blueprint they inherit at birth. Why then do you need to bother about 'optimizing' your growth?
The answer is that your genes are not the only determinant of your growth. External factors also count. In particular, proper nourishment is required to promote optimum growth.
You were born with a genetic master plan - a blueprint for your unique qualities, gifts and talents. This 'plan' contains a program for your physical and inner growth, including the unfolding of your full potential. Your genetic blueprint is a complete set of assembly instructions for a perfect 'you.'
The information that's written in your genetic blueprint can be likened to the instructions contained in the seed of a plant. A tiny oak seed for example, housed hopefully in its protective acorn, has the potential to become a mighty tree. Now a tall, well formed and fully grown oak is breathtaking to behold. Strong, enduring and even inspirational, it's surely among the most striking and majestic sights in nature.
But not every seed produces a fine tree. Most fail. They're eaten by birds or mammals, or consumed by the larvae of moths or weevils. Many survive predator attacks but simply don't germinate for a great variety of reasons. And some produce stunted trees of no great size, strength or beauty due to poor soils, deficient nutrients, lack of water or other unfavorable conditions.
It's the same with us, and indeed with all forms of life. Just as each seed is destined under ideal conditions to become a mighty oak, each of us is programmed to realize our full potential under ideal conditions. Your genetic blueprint, like mine, contains instructions for your full flowering as a human being.
Since your purpose includes growing to your full potential, the challenge is to create the conditions for your genetic blueprint to unfold naturally and completely. This is most importantly a matter of nourishment.
. . . with the right soil and nutrients, with water, sun and clean air in suitable proportions and a non toxic environment, a tiny seed will grow into a perfect specimen of a mighty oak.
Likewise, we need proper nourishment of body, mind and spirit in order to grow to our full potential. The 6 Healthy Habits has been designed specifically to help you do this.
Research shows that having a sense of life purpose promotes physical, mental and spiritual health.
There's actually nothing mystical or mysterious about the idea of trying to 'find your life purpose'. It's natural to seek meaning in your life.
And living with purpose doesn't mean you need some grand and glorious vision for your life.
The gifts you choose to give will be framed and scaled by the circumstances of your life, and by your present roles, responsibilities and relationships. You may for example be a parent, a business person, a teacher, a carer, a coach, an employee, a retired senior, or be in any number of these or other roles. Each of your roles in life carries opportunities for you to give and to grow. Each has its own significance and importance, for you and for others.
In general terms everyone's life purpose involves a quest for personal growth and a search for meaning through personal contribution. But how do you as an individual determine exactly what this means, specifically, for you? Can you discover your unique life purpose?
First, a warning: Don't get too hung up trying to answer this question. Try and force the answer and it won't come. Actually, you know the answer anyway. It's just that it's tucked away in your unconscious mind and needs a little coaxing out.
Have you ever tried hard to remember someone's name, or perhaps a movie or song title, and it just wouldn't come to you? I'm sure we've all had that experience. Your mind just goes blank, and the more you try and force the answer, the more hopeless it gets. Finally you give up, and you do something else.
Later, when you've forgotten all about the problem, the answer suddenly pops into your head. That is, it is revealed to your conscious mind.
What actually happens is this: you pose the question to your unconscious mind and when it's ready, it serves up the answer you need. People talk about 'sleeping on a problem;' when you wake up, or you're in the shower, or on the bus, the answer just comes to you. The unconscious mind works to its own timetable.
Your unconscious mind can help you discover your life purpose, just as it can help you remember the name of an old acquaintance.
This may take some time, or it may happen quickly. Everyone's experience is different. Use the power of your unconscious mind by carrying out the following steps:
. . . often a thought pops into our mind but we don't act on it. Later we wish we had, because something bad happens which could have been prevented or avoided if only we had taken notice of that thought in the first place. We all have examples of this. Learning to respect your unconscious mind, to listen to reminders and warnings that come from within, is part of conscious living.
An important factor concerning life purpose is our attitude towards routine responsibilities we face as we pass through phases of our lives. At different times in your life you will face unique demands. Whether you are a student, a parent, a carer or a bread-winner, or perhaps find yourself in several of these roles at once, you will have associated commitments and responsibilities. You can view these as a burden (contributing to your rut), or more constructively as a reflection of your life purpose during your present life passage.Top
The notion of life phases was popularized by Gail Sheehy, in her influential 1976 book Passages, where she wrote of the phases in the adult life cycle, and the personal crises, turning points and opportunities for growth and renewal of purpose inherent in these phases.
It's useful to think of your 'life purpose' as shifting throughout each of these phases. As you grow, and your life circumstances and responsibilities change. It's normal for your priorities, your focus and therefore your life purpose to change in response to these changes. Your life purpose grows and develops with you. Indeed, a progressive unfolding of purpose is one of the aspects of your growth.
When you are young, your life purpose is to grow and educate yourself. If both your parents are working, you may also be called on to help the family function by helping care for younger brothers or sisters. As you grow older, if times are tough, you may need to work to supplement the family income.
Later, as a parent yourself, your key responsibility is caring for your own children. This may cause conflict with your career, and perhaps even cause you to give up your work and become a full-time parent. Some people see full-time parenting as a lesser calling than doing paid work, and experience the change as a lessening in self esteem. But in truth, raising your children is one of the most worthwhile things you can do, and it is hard to imagine you could have a higher life purpose at that time.
Later in life, caring for aged parents and helping bring up grandchildren can become significant priorities, changing yet again your focus and affecting your life purpose at that time.
We seem often to regard the responsibilities of our life passage as burdens, that keep us from 'doing the things we want to do' with our time. Yet as we shall see, the research clearly shows that giving, caring and kindness are important keys to our own to meaning, purpose, health and happiness. We are lucky to be needed.Top
Ideas like duty, responsibility and service can seem somewhat quaint or 'old-fashioned' these days, with our modern emphasis on the rights, rewards and material comforts we owe to ourselves. This is a pity. It too often robs us of the healthful nourishment that comes from the joy of giving; the warm glow you get from going out of our way, doing something extra, something unexpected, for the needy, a friend, a stranger.
Such acts, genuinely given out of compassion and love, 'random acts of kindness,' feed the soul. They build the habit of purpose into our lives, brick by brick.
And as it turns out, the habit of living with purpose is fundamental to achieving outstanding health.
Altruism is an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Altruistic deeds are acts of kindness and generosity, carried out with a genuine intent to serve. True altruism stems from sincere and authentic feelings of good will, compassion and friendship. As with unconditional love, they are not motivated by any thought of personal gain.
Paradoxically, however, evidence suggests that when it comes to acts of kindness and altruism, everybody wins - doing good things for others not only makes them feel good, it has a health benefit for you too. Such acts are as good for you as they are for the recipient of your kindness. A study conducted in Britain in 2010 demonstrated that doing good for others is good for your health.
Researchers have uncovered what's been called the 'Helper's Halo' - an ability to lower stress, increase happiness, boost self esteem and reduce anger just by being more considerate and doing good deeds for others.
The study in 2010 carried out by Dr David Lewis of the University of Sussex’s Mindlab International, which specializes in behavioral research, investigated whether altruistic acts result in improvements to physical and psychological health. The study showed that people who do good deeds, such as helping a neighbor or performing charity work, experience less anger, less stress, and feel more positive and self confident.
Participants aged between 18 and 55 were sent into their local community to perform simple, random, selfless tasks of their choosing for nine days. Acts included things like giving someone money for a parking meter if they had no change, painting a neighbour's garden fence, cleaning out their basement and looking after a friend's garden when they were on holiday.
A variety of laboratory tests and experiments were completed on the participants before and after the trial. These include the monitoring of electrodermal activity (EDA) skin conductance which is a sensitive measure of stress levels in humans, heart rate and psychological assessments to quantify emotional states and personality traits.
Key findings of the study included:
Awareness of other people's feelings and empathy towards members of the community increased by 10% from 71% to 81%.
Based on the study conclusions, Dr. Lewis said, "Being more considerate toward others can reduce stress levels. The effects of stress on the body are well documented - it can suppress the immune system, lead to a rise in blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and contribute to infertility. Therefore to improve our chances of being healthy we should all go out and start doing good to others today."
These conclusions support the findings of a study conducted by David McClelland at Harvard University in 1988. McClelland coined the term The Mother Teresa effect to describe how merely watching an act of altruism can have positive effect on your health.
In the Harvard study, participants were shown a film of Mother Theresa helping the poor in Calcutta.
Immediately after watching it, the subjects' saliva was tested. Researchers found an increase in immunoglobulin A, one of the substances that defends against the common cold virus.
This was the case even for participants who did not share Mother Teresa's religious views.
The conclusion was that participants experienced an increase in their state of health health even though they just experienced altruism indirectly.
The Harvard study found that helping others can make us mentally tougher and "may be the best way of regaining control of your own life." This is because you have greater control over your own thoughts and behavior than over anything else in your life. To deliberately choose the gift of giving is to gain a foothold on your pursuit of life purpose. It just takes one small act of kindness.
Yet the potential power of that act is extraordinary. It can touch lives you will never know, because kindness is viral. Your good deed may encourage the recipient to do the same for someone else, spreading your feeling of goodwill perhaps far and wide. And kindness is free. It can be simply a compliment, a smile, a thank you. Giving something when it's not expected is all that's needed.Top
But you don't have to divert a large chunk of your income, time or energy to charity, family, friends and colleagues. The smallest gifts can quickly result in surprisingly large and lasting leaps in your happiness.
Small non-financial acts of thoughtfulness and kindness for example can trigger a huge hike in your happiness. Helping an older person carry their shopping, or a mother lift her stroller into her car, or simply a warm smile on a cold day can gladden the heart of another, and your own as well.
A kind word of affirmation can be inspirational and offer encouragement just when it is needed. Random acts of kindness need be no more than generous words, a sincere compliment, a gesture of support.
While the 'financial value' of your gift is not important, research does suggest that the more meaningful the contribution you feel you are making, the greater will be the positive impact on your health. This is also intuitively obvious. If I think I have really made a difference, the positive emotion I experience will be much greater than if I suspect my act has had no real impact.
We seem to know intuitively that kindness, generosity and giving to others, satisfy deep needs within ourselves. They give our life purpose. Many people do this through volunteering.Top
Many not-for-profit organizations provide valuable services to their communities and to the world at large. Volunteer organizations vary in their scope from the local neighborhood to the national or even international stage. The passions they pursue range from the parochial to the planetary. Whatever your interest, there is a group devoted to it.
Examples include charities targeting welfare issues for the poor, unemployed or disadvantaged; organizations addressing humanitarian issues like human rights, poverty alleviation, peace, education and discrimination; and groups pursuing interests like environmental protection, sustainable development and animal welfare.
Worthwhile causes would appear to be unlimited. There are tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of these types of organizations in major countries; millions of them internationally and worldwide.
At the local level, organizations such as churches, schools, hospitals, welfare groups, charities, sporting clubs and environmental bodies serve their communities, often relying heavily on volunteers. Their activities include helping needy families and the homeless, visiting and caring for the lonely, sick and elderly and helping older people with their gardening, shopping or home maintenance.
Other organizations pursue political objectives for the benefit of their communities.
Many people find volunteering a way to enhance their life purpose. Volunteering is a form of philanthropy. You don't have to be wealthy to be a philanthropist - all forms of giving qualify, including good works (a helping hand) and small donations within your means.
I have emphasized the importance of altruism as a path to life purpose. Also important is a sense of progress toward meaningful goals.Top
Without goals you can quickly feel as though you're stuck in a rut - that your life isn't going anywhere. Every day is the same as any other day - go to work, come home exhausted, do the chores, watch some TV, fall asleep on the couch, have a drink, go to bed knowing tomorrow will be the same all over again.
Have you been through phases of your life like this? I think most people have. Our busy lives seem to wear us out and we feel we've no time or energy left for projects that might revitalize us with meaning.Ideally you need to stay learning and 'working' and contributing throughout your life, well beyond 'retirement.' It's becoming clearer that stimulation and creativity can keep your brain cells developing new connections right into old age. Top
Discover more about the 6 Healthy Habits that will bring you extraordinary physical, mental and spiritual health.
These habits are your keys to well-being, prosperity, inner peace, and purpose. Start with this introduction at The 6 Healthy Habits.
For more on each of the 6 Healthy Habits, go to:
Healthy Habit 1  live consciously
Healthy Habit 2  act responsibly
Healthy Habit 3  grow authentically
Healthy Habit 4  nourish your body
Healthy Habit 5  nourish your mind
Healthy Habit 6  nourish your soul
You are the most powerful force shaping your future
Master the power of conscious choice
Find and follow your personal path to self-fulfilment
Live by your inner beliefs and values
You need more than healthy food, exercise and rest
For real health you need much more . .
A healthy mind is more than just a healthy brain
Thoughtful ways to change your mind
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