Perhaps you have experienced moments when you felt truly connected, like you were performing a task you were made for—maybe when you were organizing a grassroots campaign, comforting a sick grandchild, or creating a piece of art or music. Many people describe the feeling of being in harmony with their purpose as alive, clear, and authentic.
You may also experience “flow,” which is a state of total absorption in which time seems to disappear. “Getting in the flow” feels fulfilling and pleasurable and is a key to emotional wellbeing .
In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits, having a strong sense of purpose can also help you:
According to Dan Buettner, the two most vulnerable times in a person’s life are the first twelve months after birth and the year following retirement. In fact, you have probably heard stories about perfectly healthy men who died shortly after they retired from a lifelong career. Some researchers suspect that for these men, the end of their career also signified the end of their purpose in life, which affected their health and wellbeing.
A study of retired employees of Shell Oil found that men and women who retired early (age 55) were more likely to die early than those who retired at age 65. A similar study of almost 17,000 healthy Greeks showed that the risk of death increased by 51% after retirement.
These two studies suggest that there may be some risk in only finding meaning in a career. It seems important to reshape life’s big questions and find ways to continue serving purpose even after retirement to improve chances of a longer, healthier life.
One of the common features among people who live with purpose is that they are able to find meaning in the things that happen to them. Andrew Zolli, author of Resilience, describes these people as being able to “cognitively reappraise situations and regulate emotions, turn
ing life’s proverbial lemons into lemonade.”
Ed Diener’s extensive research on the science of wellbeing has found that people with a strong sense of purpose are better able to handle the ups and downs of life. Purpose can offer a psychological buffer against obstacles—thus, a person with a strong sense of purpose remains satisfied with life even while experiencing a difficult day. According to Barbara Fredrickson, this kind of long-term resilience can lead to better cardiovascular health, less worry, and greater happiness over time.