Are you satisfying these needs at work? Could you?
The Big 4 Universal Needs Related to Flourishing
Different writers may use varied terminology to describe what has become known as the “Big 4” universal human needs or motivations. I’ve taken the liberty of using pairs of terms that each start with the letter C, with hopes that doing so makes them more memorable. (There is no particular order of importance on this list.)
The first we might refer to as Contribution or Calling. That is, we need to feel as though our life has meaning or purpose. That isn’t to say that it has to be a grandiose sense of importance, but rather that what we do means something to others or to the world generally; that what we do is productive and purposeful.
The second universal need we might call Choice or Control. Generally we prefer more rather than less choice and more control over what we do and how we do it. In fact, humans tend to actively resist encroachment on their autonomy.
The third universal need could be termed Competence or Capability. That is, it is important to feel as though we do a pretty good job at what is important to us, and perhaps at least as important is the perception that we are improving or have opportunities to grow more effective.
Last on our list is Connection or Community. It’s not that we need to be liked by everyone, but it is important to have a set of people who like and respect us; a group we consider our tribe.
These Big 4 universal needs or motivations apply to all of us, but there is probably variation in their relative importance to each person. If I asked you to rank order the four from most to least important, your rankings would probably not perfectly match mine.
How to Use the Big 4 Yourself
Knowing about the Big 4 allows us to use them as a checklist for evaluating our current job, a possible promotion, or a potential new job. It’s not a must that our job satisfies all four needs, but given how much time we spend at work, it would be ideal if it did. The greater the extent to which all four needs are connected to your work, the greater your likely job satisfaction. To promote retention, job satisfaction, and professional development for those you lead or supervise, consider how the Big 4 needs relate to each person’s roles and tasks and modify accordingly.
What if your work doesn’t satisfy one or more of the essential motivations? Are there other aspects of your life that do, or that could? Are there ways you might alter your work in light of what aspects of the Big 4 seem lacking? If not, are there possibilities for a more rewarding move, either inside or outside your organization?
Of course it is possible to maintain a position that does not offer much with regard to satisfaction of the Big 4 needs, and your choice to do so may have to do with meeting other needs (like a reasonable income). However, to flourish, it is worth asking, at least on occasion, how the Big 4 relate to your current situation, with an eye toward proactively making changes to maximize your engagement and life satisfaction.
Michael W. Wiederman Ph.D. Mindful Professional Development
New research shows that positive mental well-being may help protect brain health as we age.
The findings strongly linked having purpose and meaning in life with a reduced risk for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Meaningful activities that engage the mind, body, and spirit may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The meaning of life might just be about finding meaning in life itself.
A new meta-analysis in Ageing Research Reviews suggests that a life lived with purpose and meaning is good for brain health, offering implications for cognitive impairment in older adults..
According to the National Institute on Aging, people over 65 will account for 16% of the world’s population by 2050 — a 50% increase from 2010. The global prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is expected to triple by 2050Trusted Source, from about 57 million to 152 million.
While prior evidence shows that a healthy lifestyle — such as keeping your brain active, regular exercise, and a balanced diet — reduces the risk of dementia, the new research offers insight into how psychological well-being may also play an important role in slowing cognitive decline.
How does having a sense of purpose improve brain health?
Older adults with dementia face increased risks for mental health conditions like depression.
Prior research has shown a strong link between positive psychology and physical health outcomes, while healthy aging research shows that mental well-being may play a role in longevity.
To better understand how mental well-being is associated with cognitive function and dementia risk, researchers at University College London examined data from 62,250 people across three continents with an average age of 60.
The systematic review of 11 studies observed the link between positive psychological constructs (PPCs) like purposeful living and the risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older adults.
The results indicate that having purpose and meaning in life is significantly associated with a 19% reduced risk for dementia. This was more statistically significant than other positive constructs like optimism and happiness.
Still, the mixed findings for different PPCs highlight a need for further research to explore the causal relationship between positive psychological factors and cognitive health.
Purpose vs. happiness: What’s the difference?
Georgia Bell, a PhD student at University College London and lead author of the study, told Psych Central that purposeful living may be more impactful for reducing MCI risk than happiness due to the differences between eudemonic (e.g., purpose or meaning) and hedonic (e.g., positive affect or pleasure) well-being.
“People with higher eudemonic well-being may be more likely to engage in other protective behaviors, such as exercise and social interactions,” Bell said by email.
“Whilst an individual may gain happiness from these, the goal-oriented pursuit to live in a way that is purposeful [or] meaningful may act as motivation to live a healthier lifestyle.”
David A. Merrill, MD, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist, and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, California, explained that hedonic activities that bring you happiness are often fleeting, satisfying needs or urges.
“The hedonistic pursuit of happiness can involve mindless or unhealthy behaviors, like overindulgence, at times,” Merrill said by phone.
According to Merrill, eudemonic pursuits meet a certain human need through purpose or meaning.
Older adults may find meaning in strengthening interpersonal relationships, especially for those who’ve lost loved ones or have become estranged from other family members.
“If you can find a purpose in deepening your relationships with others, that may end up promoting all these other health behaviors that protect your brain and your body,” Merrill said.
The science of living with purpose
If having purpose or meaning in life leads to better brain health, it’s possible that biological and neurological factors play a role.
For instance, a study published in April 2022 in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience shows that life satisfaction increases with age due to the increased release of oxytocin.
According to Bell, it’s possible that purpose and meaning are also associated with key dementia-related biomarkers, such as neuroinflammation and cellular stress response.
“Whilst we offer possible explanations, we would like to emphasize these are only speculative and largely based on mechanisms for depression and dementia risk,” Bell said. “More research is needed to better understand this.”
Merrill agreed that having a purpose could play a protective role in decreasing the stress response. “If you have lower levels of cortisol, then hopefully it’s dampening any chronic neuroinflammation response or cellular response,” Merrill said.
What lifestyles can improve brain function?
Exercise is good for the body and the brain. Research shows that lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and social connectedness, may be helpful for preventing cognitive decline.
An April 2022 study published in The BMJe suggests that a healthy lifestyle is associated with a longer life expectancy and a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, a March 2022 study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia suggests that managing cholesterol and glucose in early adulthood can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
If purposeful living is indeed a protective factor for memory loss, Merrill suggested modifying your behaviors to pursue meaningful activities.
“Excessive amounts of resting or inactivity aren’t really promoting physical health or brain health,” Merrill said.
“Just because you’re happy that you’ve obtained or achieved something, it may not necessarily reinforce any of the positive biological effects that are related to behaviors that improve physical health or brain health.”
Purpose-driven tips to promote brain health
Pursuing purpose protects against depression, and depression is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
“When people are not depressed, they take better care of themselves overall — from their general physical health to their mental well-being, social connectedness, and activities.”
Merrill recommends goal-directed activities that are cognitively stimulating and help you stay physically active and engaged.
“There’s a chain reaction of positive events when you’re pursuing purpose,” Merrill said. “You’re boosting your mood, which boosts how well you take care of yourself.
Try engaging in volunteer work
If volunteering gives you purpose, you might prioritize a good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast to hold yourself accountable for the job you need to do. You’re also socializing and connecting with others who are passionate about the same cause.
Spend more time outside
A large body of research shows that being outside in nature is beneficial for mental and physical health and improves cognitive function. Outdoor activities also tend to inspire social connections with others.
Prioritize your relationships
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest studies of adult life for more than 80 years, found a strong link between longevity and meaningful relationships.
According to Merrill, nurturing our relationships with our family, friends, and community, may also help protect us against depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Well-being and health are related to the success of our relationships,” Merrill said. “Purposefulness can decrease the pain that comes from disconnect, shame, and isolation.”
While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a healthier lifestyle combining diet, exercise, and purpose may help prevent cognitive impairment in older adults.
Still, adults of all ages may wish to consider how we could make our lives more meaningful now.
Remember, there’s a distinct difference between hedonistic pleasures and purposeful activities.
Engaging in what gives you purpose and meaning may also make you more inclined to choose other healthy behaviors.
“It’s kind of futile to just chase after pleasure,” Merrill said. “Purposefulness, by happy coincidence, activates these other behavioral changes that are healthy for your body and your brain.”
Having a Strong Life Purpose Eases Loneliness of Covid-19 Isolation, Study Finds
Those Who Felt Their Life Was Guided by Meaningful Values or Goals Were More Willing to Engage in Covid-19 Protective Behaviors
Summary: Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health?
New research found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why can some people weather the stress of social isolation better than others, and what implications does this have for their health? New research from the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who felt a strong sense of purpose in life were less lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did they achieve less loneliness by flouting public health guidance? No. Although lonelier people were less likely to want to follow public health guidance, people with a stronger sense of purpose also expressed more willingness to engage in social distancing, hand washing, and other COVID-19 protective behaviors.
Purpose in life, or a sense that your life is guided by personally meaningful values and goals – which could involve family ties, religion, activism, parenthood, career or artistic ambitions, or many other things — has been associated in prior research with a wide range of positive health outcomes, both physical and psychological.
“In the face of adversity, people with a stronger sense of purpose in life tend to be more resilient because they have a clear sense of goals that motivate actions that are aligned with personal values,” says Yoona Kang, Ph.D., lead author and a Research Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab. “People with strong purpose may also experience less conflict when making health decisions. We felt that the COVID-19 pandemic was an important context to test whether purpose in life relates to individuals’ willingness to engage in behaviors to protect themselves and others.”
Based on their prior research, Kang and her collaborators expected that people with higher sense of purpose would be more likely to engage in COVID-19 prevention behaviors than individuals with a lower sense of purpose. In order to test their theory, the researchers surveyed more than 500 adult participants to capture their levels of purpose in life, their current and pre-pandemic levels of loneliness, and the degrees to which they intended to engage in behaviors known to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
They found that higher levels of loneliness made people be less focused on protecting themselves from COVID-19, and more skeptical that behaviors to prevent COVID-19 would be effective. However, having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with lower levels of loneliness and a greater desire to take action to protect themselves from COVID-19. Those with a higher sense of purpose also expressed a stronger belief that COVID-19 prevention behaviors would work. Even when people who had a strong sense of purpose did report being lonely, they still felt strongly about taking precautions to prevent COVID-19.
“When faced with extreme loneliness and social isolation, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to connect with other people, despite the health risks, is a natural response,” Kang says. “And yet, amidst this drastic shift in social life, we found that people with a higher sense of purpose were more likely to engage in prevention behaviors. This is striking because it shows that purpose in life can empower people to make life-saving health decisions that protect their own health and those around them.”
Additionally, the researchers found that older people expressed less loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic than younger people. Kang sees this as a sign of the resilience of older adults, and she hopes to further study how to enhance purpose in life and resilience in aging populations.
“Having a stronger sense of purpose was associated with really important, positive outcomes across the lifespan,” says Emily Falk, senior author, Director of the Communication Neuroscience Lab, and Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing. “Our upcoming work will test interventions to increase their sense of purpose, in hopes of bringing these benefits to more people.”
The study, published this month in The Gerontologist, is entitled “Purpose in Life, Loneliness, and Protective Health Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In addition to Kang and Falk, authors include Danielle Cosme, Ph.D.; Rui Pei, Ph.D.; Prateekshit Pandey; and José Carreras-Tartak.
Story Source: Materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Original written by Ashton Yount. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Journal Reference: Yoona Kang, Danielle Cosme, Rui Pei, Prateekshit Pandey, José Carreras-Tartak, Emily B Falk. Purpose in life, loneliness, and protective health behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gerontologist, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnab081
We All Face Trauma, Adversity and Other Stresses. Here’s a Roadmap for Adapting to Life-Changing Situations, and Emerging Even Stronger than Before.
The Road to Resilience
Imagine you’re going to take a raft trip down a river. Along with slow water and shallows, your map shows that you will encounter unavoidable rapids and turns. How would you make sure you can safely cross the rough waters and handle any unexpected problems that come from the challenge?
Perhaps you would enlist the support of more experienced rafters as you plan your route or rely on the companionship of trusted friends along the way. Maybe you would pack an extra life jacket or consider using a stronger raft. With the right tools and supports in place, one thing is sure: You will not only make it through the challenges of your river adventure. You will also emerge a more confident and courageous rafter.
What is resilience?
Life may not come with a map, but everyone will experience twists and turns, from everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing a unique flood of thoughts, strong emotions and uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations—in part thanks to resilience.
Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.
While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.
What resilience isn’t
Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. One example is the response of many Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives after tragedy.
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality. Focusing on four core components—connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning—can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. To increase your capacity for resilience to weather—and grow from—the difficulties, use these strategies.
Build your connections
Prioritize relationships. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience.
The pain of traumatic events can lead some people to isolate themselves, but it’s important to accept help and support from those who care about you. Whether you go on a weekly date night with your spouse or plan a lunch out with a friend, try to prioritize genuinely connecting with people who care about you.
Join a group. Along with one-on-one relationships, some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based communities, or other local organizations provides social support and can help you reclaim hope. Research groups in your area that could offer you support and a sense of purpose or joy when you need it.
Take care of your body. Self-care may be a popular buzzword, but it’s also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.
Practice mindfulness. Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like prayer or meditation can also help people build connections and restore hope, which can prime them to deal with situations that require resilience. When you journal, meditate, or pray, ruminate on positive aspects of your life and recall the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials.
Avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs, or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.
Help others. Whether you volunteer with a local homeless shelter or simply support a friend in their own time of need, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people, and tangibly help others, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience.
Be proactive. It’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces.
For example, if you got laid off at work, you may not be able to convince your boss it was a mistake to let you go. But you can spend an hour each day developing your top strengths or working on your resume. Taking initiative will remind you that you can muster motivation and purpose even during stressful periods of your life, increasing the likelihood that you’ll rise up during painful times again.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals and do something regularly—even if it seems like a small accomplishment—that enables you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” For example, if you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one and you want to move forward, you could join a grief support group in your area.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle. For example, after a tragedy or hardship, people have reported better relationships and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable. That can increase their sense of self-worth and heighten their appreciation for life.
Embrace healthy thoughts
Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel—and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, if you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.
Accept change. Accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way. An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.
Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience.
For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of strategies listed above may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience.
A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist people in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function as well as you would like or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience. Keep in mind that different people tend to be comfortable with different styles of interaction. To get the most out of your therapeutic relationship, you should feel at ease with a mental health professional or in a support group.
The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can grow by focusing on the aspects of life’s challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.
APA gratefully acknowledges the following contributors to this publication:
David Palmiter, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Marywood University, Scranton, Penn.Mary Alvord, PhD, Director, Alvord, Baker & Associates, Rockville, Md.Rosalind Dorlen, PsyD, Member: Allied Professional Staff, Department of Psychiatry Overlook Medical Center, Summit, NJ; Senior Faculty, Center for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis of New Jersey and Field Supervisor at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University.Lillian Comas-Diaz, PhD, Director, Transcultural Mental Health Institute, Washington, D.C.Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City, N.Y.Salvatore R. Maddi, PhD, The Hardiness Institute, Inc., University of California at Irvine, Newport Beach, Calif.H. Katherine (Kit) O’Neill, PhD, North Dakota State University and Knowlton, O’Neill and Associates, Fargo, N.D.Karen W. Saakvitne, PhD, Traumatic Stress Institute/Center for Adult & Adolescent Psychotherapy, South Windsor, Conn.Richard Glenn Tedeschi, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Researchers believe these daily habits will train your brain to achieve better overall well-being. (Worth a try, right?)
Researchers believe they’ve cracked the code when it comes to achieving overall emotional and mental wellness through four key pillars.
This past year has been an excruciating one for millions of North Americans, and our collective well-being has taken a serious hit. A majority of adults in the United States say their mental health is worse now than it was pre-pandemic. Feelings of isolation are up. A majority of North American adults report feeling overwhelmed by their current stress levels.
Against that bleak backdrop — and given that COVID-19 case numbers are still reaching record highs, even as vaccines have arrived— it seems silly, almost, to think about cultivating emotional well-being. Now? Really? And most importantly, how?!
A research paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a mental training plan that its authors call the “how” of well-being. Their findings suggest there are four key behaviors that tend to contribute most to overall satisfaction. And they see their plan as a way in which people who already feel relatively healthy can cultivate mental wellness on a daily basis.
“It’s a more hopeful view of well-being,” study researcher Cortland Dahl of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, a cross-disciplinary research institute, told HuffPost. “It’s the idea that you can take active steps that improve well-being, very much so in the way that you might take steps to improve physical health.”
Of course anyone grappling with severe stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns should absolutely reach out to a qualified mental health professional.
Looking to be more deliberate about training your brain to cultivate mental and emotional well-being? Here are the four basic pillars of the plan, and some simple steps you can start taking right away.
Step 1: Cultivate Awareness — And ‘Meta-awareness’
Awareness is a “heightened, flexible attentiveness to your environmental and internal cues,” according to the Center for Healthy Minds ― which basically means your surroundings as well as your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
And studies do show that people with heightened awareness tend to have better overall well-being. Also, being distracted can lead to feelings of stress and unhappiness.
One simple tactic that will help you achieve this? Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.
Another option? “One thing I like to do is when I’m doing dishes, I’ll notice the sounds, I’ll feel the sensations,” Dahl said.
The new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research — which pulls from a range of studies from the worlds of neuroscience, meditation traditions and more — suggests that “meta-awareness” is important, too. So it’s not only important to be aware; it’s also important to be aware that you’re being aware. Ultimately, cultivating meta-awareness helps you to deliberately direct and sustain your attention, the authors argue, rather than being pulled in by “distractors.”
Making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship.
Step 2: Cultivate Connection
Forging and strengthening a sense of togetherness is certainly a difficult goal amid COVID-19. But making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can be enough to help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship as the pandemic continues.
The researchers also say that simply cultivating feelings of kindness toward others can be enough to help boost your sense of connection — regardless of whether the person on the receiving end even knows you’re thinking about them.
They cite several studies and pilot programs that suggest kindness meditation programs can lower feelings of distress and boost positive feelings. There is even some preliminary evidence that these types of practices may help lessen implicit bias.
“You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Dahl said. That might entail bringing a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.
Step 3: Practice Insight
The researchers define insight as having self-knowledge about how your own emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape your sense of who you think you are.
And working to develop this kind of insight can empower you to challenge the beliefs you’ve held about yourself that you may have thought were immutable, Dahl explained. He cited a personal example, describing how he used to be deeply unsettled by public speaking and believed this was just an unchangeable fact of who he was.
“Instead of having this kind of constant judgment, we can get curious about our own inner worlds,” Dahl said.
One practical, real-world way to to do that is to simply notice when a negative thought crops up, and be inquisitive, the researchers wrote. Stop and ask yourself: Where is this thought coming from? Is it based in any assumptions?
Make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to your core values. For example, doing the dishes might be an act of generosity toward those you love.
Step 4: Connect With Your Purpose
You don’t have to try and orient every day toward some far-reaching sense of purpose with a “capital P,” Dahl said. But it can be worthwhile to spend time thinking about your deep core values. Then make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to them.
For example, doing the dishes or cooking a meal at the end of a long day might be an act of generosity toward those you love. Signing on for your “fifth Zoom meeting of the day” may help connect you to a career that you find meaningful.
Research has shown that having a larger sense of purpose in life is linked to positive health outcomes ― from resilience in the face of trauma to overall lower risk of death.
And ultimately, these four habits should help provide a clearer framework for people looking to improve their mental well-being and wondering how to start. If connecting with your sense of purpose every day doesn’t necessarily click with you right off the bat, for example, try something else.
“We think of this as the ‘eat your fruits and vegetables of mental health,’” said Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, a scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds who was also a researcher on the new paper.
The goal is to find what really works for you and that — crucially — “becomes easy to integrate into everyday life,” she said.
“If I’m not (insert job title here), then who am I?”
This is the type of question some adults are asking themselves as they struggle through the darkness of losing a job to the pandemic.
Some never realized how tied their identities were to their careers until they lost them. They feel lost mentally and emotionally, as if they’re experiencing a bad breakup. The present is surreal, the future is uncertain, and they’re unsure how to define themselves.
Christa Black, a freelance copywriter from Ashland, Kentucky, said her work shaped her identity.
“I finally felt like a ‘real’ writer, because after several years of trying, I was actually being paid to do what I enjoyed and was good at,” she said. “I started to feel less like an artist and more like ‘a professional.'”
But when the pandemic hit, the work faded away. Black’s income decreased to little to none. She soon felt that she had lost her identity, that she was no longer a professional and that she didn’t fit in with the creative community from which she had come.
That might be because sudden unemployment is a threat to “narrative identity,” said Jonathan Adler, a professor of psychology who specializes in identity and narrative psychology at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.
“Identity is the story of our lives that weaves together the way we reconstruct our past, make sense of the present and anticipate our future,” he said.
That narrative identity is the confluence of you and the culture in which you live. We grow up in a sea of stories about what a typical life’s journey looks like and what moments we’re supposed to hold onto, Adler said, so we take the templates available to us and tailor our experiences to those master narratives.
“We use our stories as the foundation for everything else that we do,” Adler said. “So when you rock the foundation, everything else on top of that crumbles.”
Through some inner work, however, you can take back your worth.
How our identities influence our jobs
For some, jobs provide merely a paycheck. For others, occupations also supply a sense of meaning that holds weight when they think about their sense of selves.
Our perpetually “on the grind” culture defines who we are by what we do for work.
“The first thing we ask when we meet a new person is, ‘What do you do for a living?'” said Nicole Hind, an Australia-based psychotherapist behind the online community, blog and practice Unveiled Stories.
“It’s as though we equate ‘goodness’ with ‘work’ when in fact goodness is so much more than that. It’s important to note that this is particular to our modern industrialized society: the idea that work is all of who we are and that we are not worthy humans if we don’t work.”
Additionally, people who feel motivated and engaged by and passionate about their work might have experienced psychological benefits from finding their calling, Adler said.
In the idealized college-job-promotion-passion trajectory, becoming unemployed isn’t part of the vision. “All of a sudden the end is totally open and uncertain,” Adler said.
Our narrative identities serve two additional functions that make us feel good. They provide a sense of unity, so that we feel we are the same people over time. They also provide a sense of purpose, so we know the meaning of what we’re doing and what our lives are about.
People suddenly faced with job loss are now challenged by a story with a cliffhanger and interrupted senses of unity and purpose — all of which can lead to anxiety, depression and anger.
What to do about it
Finding your identity begins with questioning yourself about three themes that construct life stories and tend to be the strongest predictors of well-being, Adler said.
“It’s not so much what happens to you [that matters]; it’s how you tell the story of what happens to you,” Adler said.
The first is agency, a characteristic of the main character in your story (which is you). Maybe your effectiveness at your job provided your sense of agency. Though no one is in complete control, how much are you in the driver’s seat of your life versus batted around by the whims of external forces?
Give yourself the space to grieve the losses, Hind instructed.
Don’t rush into proclaiming why you’re stronger because of it. Instead, acknowledge what you’re feeling physically, emotionally and mentally. Recall positive moments, too: the times when you advocated for what you believed in or hit a goal.
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“People who do what’s called exploratory processing — which means deeply trying to make sense of their experience before creating a redemption sequence at the end — actually do better than the people who just do redemption without exploring the challenge,” Adler said.
Then find something else to prioritize, like a new venture or hobby. Revisit your core values and what really matters: What parts of your job were important to you? What fueled your passion? How can you express those during this period?
You can stay invested in those values whether you’re employed or not, Adler said.
For example, Black, the freelance copywriter, has found her roots again in creative writing. “It has helped me get back in touch with my creativity and given me something enjoyable to focus on while I emotionally recover from everything that came along with the pandemic and its fallout,” she said.
In this way, the underlying value of her job might be fulfilled.
Figure out your own definition of success, Hind said. What do you admire about your role models? Is it their “success” or their skills, compassion, kindness or wisdom?
And our stories aren’t just about ourselves. Communion, secondly, entails a sense of being connected to, nurturing and feeling cared for by quality relationships. Engage with the connections that matter to you.
“Step away from ‘job’ as being the only and step towards appreciating [yourself] and others for everything: the way you take care of someone or the meal you cooked today,” Hind said. “What [do] my everyday life, my interactions and my values say about who I am?”
Taking action and finding community foster the growth leading to redemption — stories that start out bad but end well.
“There’s a lot of research on the theme of redemption. It’s sort of a classic American master narrative,” Adler said. “We have the Puritan settlers finding freedom. We have ex-slaves’ narratives about liberation. We have the rags to riches stories.”
The outcome of finding yourself
Reclaiming your identity requires both a quick shift in mindset and a journey of changing your thought patterns and behaviors — just like setting an intention to lose weight, Adler said.
“That’s something that takes place over time, but it actually happens every moment of every day. You can’t just diet and exercise on the weekends,” he explained. “Changing your narrative identity is like that — it’s a cumulative process that builds up over time, but the intention … is something you do in the here and now every day.”
When we’re focused only on work as a measure of success and what defines us, we lose touch with many other areas, Hind said.
We might devalue our contributions to our families or forget to be present with them, ourselves, pets and other sources of joy. We say we “don’t have time” for leisure and then wonder why we’re so anxious all the time or need a drink to unwind. Then we wonder why we’re unhappy, Hind said.
Just as a threatened identity might have upended every area of your life, a solid identity can also flow into different domains and increase your confidence.
What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?
When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical doctor Oscar Serrallach answered without hesitation: having a sense of purpose. Serrallach went on to describe that while some of his patients have developed great regimes of nutrition, lifestyle activities and movement to support their wellbeing; those without a clear sense of purpose in their life experience continuing struggle with physical health issues. The distinguishing quality of many of his healthiest patients – those who transcend common health challenges despite not having lived by the book, in terms of healthy lifestyle factors – is that they seem to be the most aligned or ‘called’ towards some primary focus of meaning in their life.
Japanese culture actually has a word which addresses this focus. The word is ikigai and translates simply as, ‘reason for being’.
What is Your ‘Reason for Being’?
According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. To find it often requires deep enquiry and lengthy ‘search of self’ – a search which is highly regarded.
The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki referring to life, and kai, which roughly means “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Unpacking the word and its associated symbol a bit further, ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:
What you Love (your passion)
What the World Needs (your mission)
What you are Good at (your vocation)
What you can get Paid for (your profession)
The word ikigai, that space in the middle of these four elements, is seen as the source of value or what make one’s life truly worthwhile. In Okinawa, Japan, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”. Interestingly, while certainly incorporating the financial aspects of life, the word is more often used to refer to the mental and spiritual state behind our circumstance as opposed to our current economic status alone. Even if we are moving through a dark or challenging time, if we are moving with purpose, if we are feeling called toward something or have a clear goal in mind, we may still experience ikigai. Often the behaviors that make us feel ikigai are not the ones we are forced to take based on the expectations of the world around us, but rather they are the natural actions and spontaneous responses that emerge from a deep and direct connection to life.
The Question of Purpose
Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role that each member was born to play in the greater tribe and story of life; though the space and reverence for this question does not always seem to exist today. For many, our decisions around life-focus unfold in a more reactionary way, propelling us into educational, professional and life-directional paths based less on deep inner calling or soul-inspired vision, and more on societal expectations, so-called ‘practical reality’ and what is required to survive in the systems we’ve created to live in.
The truth is, if there was ever a time on our planet where a sense of true purpose was needed, required, or desperately called for, now would be that time. But amidst the multi-layered pressures of our modern world, how do we peel back the layers and discover why we are here and what we are really supposed to be doing?
American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell shared his view on fulfilling our purpose when he said,
My general formula for my students is,
‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it .
Sacred Activism, encourages us on the other hand to find our purpose by ‘following our heartbreak’. Andrew Harvey calls us to discover that which is most deeply disturbing in our world and to use this as a catalyst to propel our actions and discover where we can make the biggest difference.
Meanwhile, philosopher and civil rights leader Howard W Thurman said:
Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and do that…
Because what the world really needs is people who have come alive.
While each of these viewpoints are powerfully compelling in their own right, whether we are following our bliss, following our heartbreak, or that which makes us come alive (or a combination of all three!), for many of us there is also an apparent need to follow that which pays the bills each month and allows us to cover the basic necessities of life. So how do we balance all of these factors in the creation of a life which is meaningful, purposeful and aligned with our true calling? Is it possible to have it all? The essence of ikigai gives us a framework to balance these elements into a cohesive whole.
Passion as a Vehicle for Change and Contribution
As the world moves through massive change on many levels, more and more people are feeling called to align their skills and gifts with a higher cause or sense of contribution. Beautiful examples are emerging in many arenas of social change and activism where people are not abandoning their passion for the cause but rather channeling the thing they most love doing in the direction of positive change – and discovering inspired ways to support themselves along the way.
Sixteen year old rapper, dancer and global youth director of Earth Guardians Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a living example of ikigai, blending his creative gifts and passion for the Earth in the rise of a world-wide youth-lead revolution in support of future generations. Poet/rapper/Facebook sensation Prince Ea has woven his love and concern for humanity and Earth with a gift for capturing profound messages into powerfully creative 3-5 minute videos – an expression of ikigai which galvanises the energy and support of millions of people online each week. Visionary art therapist and yoga teacher Atira Tan responded to her “heartbreak” witnessing child sex trafficking in Asia and has discovered incredible passion and aliveness through the sharing of her global foundation Art2Healing, bringing justice and transformational healing and movement arts to those who have suffered from this experience.
Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigaiYouth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigai.
The truth is many of the challenges we face in today’s world are not simple, technical challenges. They are complex, multi-dimensional issues which will require expansive, multi-dimensional thinking and action. The type of thinking, action and energy that emerges naturally when we are in the throes of creative expression or connection with others. When we are immersed in any endeavor that brings us into our hearts, that makes us come alive – and we are bringing ourselves fully to it – instantly we become more generative, more magnetic and more dynamic in our ability to navigate challenges and discover pathways of breakthrough.
What is Your Ikigai?
Take a moment to draw your own version of the overlapping circles of the ikigai symbol and consider the following:
What do you Love? What aspects of your life bring you into your heart and make you come alive?
What are you Great at? What unique skills do you have that come most naturally to you? What talents have you cultivated and what do you excel at even when you aren’t trying?
What Cause do you believe in? What breaks your heart or pulls at your gut? What change would you most love to create in the world? What would you give your life for?
What do people Value and pay you for? What service, value or offering do you bring, or could you bring, that brings real value to others? Something people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?
Take a few minutes to write whatever key words, phrases, and ideas come up for you in each circle, then look for areas of natural overlap. Reflect on the sum total of these elements and how they may relate to each other. Bring yourself quietly to the centre of the circles and leave space in your mind for whatever impulse or calling may emerge naturally in the coming days… What is one simple thing you could do or be today that would be an expression of your ikigai?
Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.
Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.
Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.
A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.
For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.
Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.
The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.
Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.
These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”
In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.
7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland
Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
Embrace who you are, warts and all.
Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
Stay even-keel via equanimity.
Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.
As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.
Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,
“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”
The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ <Canada> https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help
Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.
“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might
The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.
At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.
As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.
Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.
There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.
At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.
Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.
In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.
There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.
For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.
Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.
Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.
Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.
Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.
These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.
Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.
Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.
Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”
During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.
April 2, 2020
Jennifer Cheavens Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The Ohio State University / The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don’t miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.
“What is the meaning of life?”
It’s one of those enormous questions that’s so important — both philosophically and practically, in terms of how we live our lives — and yet we rarely, if ever, stop to really think about the answer.
Given that you might be able to formulate your response in less than a minute, the wisdom-to-effort ratio for this philosophical exercise could not be more advantageous.
And having an answer may even improve your health and help you live longer.
A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry examined the relationship between our physical and mental well-being and the search for, or presence of, purpose in life.
After studying 1,300 subjects from ages 21 to more than 100, the authors found that older people were more likely to have found their life’s purpose, while younger people were more likely still searching. That’s logical, given that wisdom is often born from experience. According to research by Stanford education professor William Damon, the author of “The Path to Purpose,” only 20% of young adults have a fully realized sense of their life’s meaning.
And according to the new study, the presence of meaning in one’s life showed a positive correlation to one’s health, including improved cognitive function, while searching for it may have a slight negative effect. Mental and physical well-being was self-reported, and having a sense of purpose tended to peak around age 60, the study found.
According to two other studies published in 2014 — one among 9,000 participants over age 65 and another among 6,000 people between 20 and 75 — those who could articulate the meaning and purpose of their lives lived longer than those who saw their lives as aimless. It didn’t seem to matter what meaning participants ascribed to their life, whether it was personal (like happiness), creative (like making art) or altruistic (like making the world a better place). It was having an answer to the question that mattered.
The connection to longevity could be causal — having purpose may help one cope with daily stress, as other research has shown — but it could also be that those who think about life’s meaning are more likely to do other activities that promote good health.
Or as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,” nicely summing up the connection between having purpose and forbearance in one’s life.
Starting an annual meaning of life resolution
The easiest but perhaps healthiest resolution you could make in the New Year may be to simply ask yourself what the meaning of life is for you. What gives you purpose? Why are we all here?
Every January for more than two decades, I have taken a few moments to ponder the answer to the question.
The reason I ask it annually is because my answer changes over time, which I find interesting and insightful. There is no objectively correct answer, I believe, only answers that are right for you at any given time.
Great thinkers (and celebrities) have given the question thought, so you can look to the words attributed to them for inspiration. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago, is believed to have written that the essence of life is “to serve others and to do good,” and the Roman philosopher Cicero, born 280 years later, came to the same conclusion. As did Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who wrote, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” And His Holiness the Dalai Lama added, “if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
Scottish rugby legend Nelson Henderson put the same notion poetically when he said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” And actress Whoopi Goldberg’s meaning-of-life metaphor was to “throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
“Love” was the conclusion of Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actress Julie Benz. Alternatively, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger concluded, “The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”
My favorite answer, though, is the Zen-like circular reasoning attributed to writer Robert Byrne, who put it, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
Some have concluded that life’s meaning is subjective. “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary. “There is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
I agree, which is why I recommend formulating your own answer. “Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: It is something molded,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, well-known for his book “The Little Prince.”
Taking a few moments to record your answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?” is the kind of simple exercise that effectively adds meaning to your life.
And then I suggest answering it every year. Looking back at how your thinking has evolved and been influenced by experience tells you something more about yourself. Cumulatively, it gets you closer to a deeper self-understanding.
In 1997, my answer was “the discovery, pursuit and attainment of one’s bliss,” inspired by myth expert Joseph Campbell. A year later, is was to make “the world a better place.” In 2002, the year I got engaged, it was simply “Love.” And the year we conceived our oldest daughter, it was the less-romantic “continuation of one’s DNA to the next generation.” But most years, my answer is some combination of love, legacy, happiness, experience and helping others.
As a practical matter, if you want to do the annual “Meaning” exercise, I suggest not looking at past answers before answering anew, to avoid biasing your answer. I write them down on the same now-yellowing piece of loose-leaf paper, and keep it someplace safe.
The last use of this experiment is to try to turn your answer into action. If you conclude, as Tolstoy and Aristotle did, that the meaning of life to help others, that should help motivate you to do more of it. If “love,” is the answer, then love more. If it’s “find your bliss,” then get searching for it.
This is not a theoretical exercise. Whatever small step you make toward finding the meaning of life is a step toward a more meaningful, and longer, life.
“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” – Oscar Wilde
What are the “Laws of Success?” Well, that depends on you. More specifically, it depends on how you think.
“Success” is an ambiguous word for a reason: it means different things to different people. For some, success is wealth. For others, money is nothing else than a tool. Consider Alfred Nobel.
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist. He held 355 patents and accumulated vast sums of wealth. When he died in 1896, most people – including his family – were shocked upon learning that he willed the majority of his fortune into a trust. The Nobel Prizes were born.
“Contentment is the only real wealth,” Nobel wrote.
Now, consider Winston Churchill:
Success is not the absence of wealth nor the experience of failure. Winston Churchill, a British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Now, consider Thomas Edison:
Edison, who was once told that he was “too stupid to learn anything” become perhaps the most prolific innovator in history, said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!”
Whether Nobel, Churchill or Edison followed any set of laws or “secrets” of success is unknown. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t embody a “greater purpose” that enabled outstanding success.
Cause and effect govern the laws of the Universe. We, as creations of the Universe (be it God, a “Higher Being,” or something else) are also subject to its laws, are we not? Read this quote by Carl Sagan, considered by many to be the greatest astrophysicist who ever lived:
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
10 LAWS OF SUCCESS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
1. THE LAW OF ACTION
One common (and grave) misperception of LOA is that thoughts are all we need. This is simply not so.
Jim Carrey, the uber-famous comedic actor, once said to Oprah Winfrey: “I wrote myself a check for ten million dollars for acting services rendered and gave myself three, maybe five years … on Thanksgiving (of) 1995 I found out I was going to make 10 million dollars on ‘Dumb & Dumber’…but you can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”
Nothing is possible without action. “A body in motion will stay in motion, while a body at rest will remain at rest.”
2. THE LAW OF POTENTIALITY
Dr. Deepak Chopra made a commitment that he would allocate “30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening” to meditate. He got to the point where he was so adept at mindfulness meditation that he could, without interaction, “sit silently and watch a sunset…listen to the sound of the ocean…or simply smell the scent of a flower” and it was pure ecstasy.
When we realize the potential of our mind, the possibilities are endless.
3. THE LAW OF VIBRATION
Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the commercial telephone, predicted telepathy a century before neuroscientists even acknowledged the possibility?
“Our brains become magnetized by the thoughts we hold in our minds. These magnets attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize the nature of our dominating thoughts.”
4. THE LAW OF GIVING
Dr. Chopra writes “Today, bring whomever you encounter a gift: a compliment or flower. Gratefully receive gifts.” Wealth is not measured in money, but in affection, appreciation, caring, and love. Some of the poorest people in the world are the richest in heart. It’s all a matter of perspective. Giving, simply put, is as beautiful as it is powerful.
5. THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT (KARMA)
As mentioned, nothing is possible without the law of cause and effect. The Universe was “born” from cause (the “Big Bang”) that produced the beautiful planet which now we call our home.
Most scientists attribute the creation of the Universe to an immediate, extraordinary amount of energy (a “singularity”) that birthed the entire cosmos. We too are products of this miraculous event – one of cause and effect. We too possess capabilities just waiting to be acknowledged and discovered.
6. THE LAW OF PURPOSE
Every human being, whether they’ve realized it or not, have a special gift or talent to give. When we consciously direct this purpose to the service of others, humanity will evolve for the better.
If you’ve ever felt the uncomfortable gnawing for you to seek something greater, it’s because you’re meant to find something greater. (This writer has had the exact same experience.)
Do not settle for something that is beneath you. Fulfill your spirit and your destiny by following your heart’s path.
7. THE LAW OF DETACHMENT
On the surface, the word ‘detachment’ may be interpreted as feelings of isolation, or worse, a carefree way of living.
Detachment, in the appropriate context, is explained by Dr. Chopra: “In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty … in the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from the known, which is the PRISON of past conditioning.”
Acceptance, responsibility, and tolerance are foundational to this Universal Law. We’re free to be ourselves and allow others to live as they are. Or, we may cast judgment and proclaim our ignorance. The choice is ours.
8. THE LAW OF INTENTION
Humans possess a remarkable ability to make conceive, construct, and take action on our intentions and desires. “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Without intention or ambition, we will not achieve our life purpose. With such knowledge, our abilities are nearly limitless. The mind, as demonstrated by Laws of the Universe, is capable of expansion. Need proof? Do this writer a favor and Google ‘neuroplasticity’.
9. THE LAW OF MORALITY
Did you know that homo sapiens are the only species capable of consciously discerning right from wrong? Outliers aside, we possess an “inner voice” that tells us “how” to act in any given situation.
Morality is not some accident. Morality is a journey that will lead to a destination. We’ve, very sadly, witnessed a disproportionate amount of evil in the world. It is fair to say that our race may be on the tipping point.
Will we choose to care for our planet as it has cared for us? Will we allow others to “live and let live?” The Universe, in all its glory, has also experienced a fair share of Chaos. We can – and likely will – weather this storm if we choose right over wrong.
10. THE LAW OF SPIRITUALITY
We are not going to rant about some religious dogma. Even the most ardent “non-believer” does indeed exercise the notion that human beings are spiritual in a sense. How else does one explain things like charity, environmentalism, compassion, selflessness, or sacrifice?
Some (albeit a minority) will attribute these feelings to neurochemical reactions. So be it. We’re not here to judge. But if you consider some of the most influential people to have ever walked this earth – Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, and Muhammed – they all had one thing in common: loving one another and a belief in something greater than ourselves.
Success is not gained through wealth, possessions, or power. Success is self-defined. If we, to the best of our abilities, make the conscious decision to follow the Laws set forth since the Universes’ inception, we will always be successful.
Love, Positivity, and Happiness to all of our Dear Readers. Thank you for what you do, and Thank You for your support.