“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” – Robert Byrne
Are you purposeful? Do you get out of bed each day with a spring in your step, excited about the day ahead? Or do you just wait for something to happen?
There has been a lot of research which indicates that having a purpose is important - Kendall Bronk & Patrick Cook-Deegan demonstrated that children and adolescents especially need it to ensure a healthy and happy future - and new research shows that it continues to be a critical factor in maintaining both mental and physical health in middle and old age.
Interestingly though, for younger people the type of goal doesn’t really matter: it might be purely selfish - to make that first million pounds or to win a gold medal; or it might be for the benefit of others - to raise money for a charity or to become a nurse. Whether the goal is selfish or social, the benefits to the youngster are the same. But this changes as we get older, as Anne Colby’s research (Stanford University) demonstrates. The benefits to our health and happiness are greater if the goal is prosocial – i.e. if we help others, we feel much better about ourselves. This makes sense insofar as in later life we may have achieved many of our goals regarding work, home and family, so we may be more inclined to look further afield to fulfil ourselves.
So, what next? To find your purpose in later life consider the following:
- What are you good at?
- What skills to do have?
- What do you enjoy?
- What do you care about?
Spend time thinking and talking with others to find out what excites you and what you can do to help others. Volunteering is a great prosocial way to give back but make sure the cause is one that you believe in, you have something meaningful to contribute and the values of the charity/social enterprise match you own: do your homework.
A great book that deals with this subject is Victor J. Strecher’s aptly named Life on Purpose.
And if you haven’t heard Billie Jean King’s recent Desert Island Discs, you are in for a treat. Whatever you think about her music tastes, she gets out of bed each day with the following purposes in mind:
- Relationships are everything
- Keep learning and keep learning how to learn
- Be a problem solver
Happy goal-setting, giving and achieving.