The Covid-19 experience has many downsides, not least of which is the terrible isolation for many people confined to their homes. However, we are seeing an upside in the way that people are reconnecting with cooking for the family, learning new skills like baking bread or planting a vegetable garden, or trying something completely new via an online course. At times of crisis we can be forced to find new purpose in our lives.
The restrictions we are experiencing can, and do, invite reflection. It can be a time to reconsider our purpose in life. Research suggests that people who have a purpose have better health outcomes and more satisfying lives. They are more resilient, are better able to cope with stress, less likely to be depressed, have reduced risk of heart disease and take better care of their health. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning claimed that having a purpose was critical to his survival and he believes it is necessary to live a fulfilling life and for psychological well-being.
Purpose has many definitions but is generally associated with having a long-term meaningful goal or goals beyond the self. It may revolve around raising a family or it may be something that makes a difference in the world. It might include volunteering to help reduce or eliminate homelessness, improving the lives of older people through giving them technology skills or even creating a work of art. You might be inspired to start a social enterprise or transition into a new career where you can make a difference.
Purpose can be cultivated through reflection and our own actions. It can emerge when we seek to match our skills, values and experience, that we have developed over a life-time, with a need in the community or the wider world. This makes having a deep knowledge of your skills and interests critical to pursuing purpose.
Our purpose changes over our lifetime, as priorities and interests shift. It’s something that gives us energy, optimism and intention to help guide our actions. While researchers note that it tends to decline with age with implications for positive ageing, it has also been shown that people who retain a sense of purpose as they get older, are more likely to thrive and deal more effectively with life’s ups and downs. As we live longer, healthier lives, cultivating a sense of purpose is likely to keep us energised and more connected and engaged with our communities.
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