A Sense of Purpose

I recently heard author Dan Buettner speak on the topic of longevity. He made two key points. One is that at least 20% of people don’t have 3 close friends: the lack of close friends is a significant health risk. The other is about the importance of having a sense of purpose in life: people with a sense of purpose live longer. It seems like isolation (sometimes increased by technology) and lack of purpose together constitute a lethal combination.

One of the things that surprises me when I talk to people is how many of them don’t have a strong sense of why they’re here, or what they want to accomplish. I wonder if retirement might be related to losing a sense a purpose: Buettner said the year you retire is the year you’re most likely to die, probably because so many of us rely on our jobs for a sense of identity and purpose.

No matter what your age, identifying (and living) your purpose is crucial to achieving a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life. Buettner spent a lot of time studying various groups around the world in places where people are living 100+ years. He noticed that they all had various things in common. I could list them here, but it’s more to the point to say that several major differences have to do with community and social structure. In other words, the centenarians in these populations had a sense of being useful. They had a purpose.

Buettner says that identifying your talent or skill area, and then finding an outlet for it, is what leads to a sense of purpose in life. I think a lot of people know where they excel, but the challenge can be finding an outlet for it. It often requires creative thinking. One of my favorite books for identifying and living your purpose is Mira Kirshenbaum’s The Gift of a Year. She says, “Knowing what you want and translating it into something doable is a better route to happiness than denying what you really want because it seems impossible in its purest form.” In other words, make your desires doable by taking one small step that brings you closer to what you want.

One of the most amazing trips you’ll ever take is the journey of self-discovery. Inquire within.

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