If you want to keep depression and anxiety out of your life, find your purpose. Research shows that having a purpose in life will also help you be physically healthier and live longer.
A purpose or mission in life is determined solely by you, because its meaning must resonate with your heart and soul. It could mean being closely connected to family and friends, expressing yourself through art or music, helping children learn to read, or encouraging officials to clean up a polluted rivers and streams.
“Having a sense of purpose is recognized as an important resource for maintaining health and well-being over the life span,” according to a report
titled “Sense of Purpose as a Psychological Resource for Aging Well,” in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Americans are fortunate to live in a land where “the pursuit of happiness” is embedded in the foundation of the nation. But in the frantic 24/7 society that’s evolved, we might sometimes chase momentary happiness instead of experiences that have a deeper and more lasting meaning.
“We’re bombarded with headlines, classes and apps that promise to make us happier. Happiness becomes an obligation,” social psychologist Amy Cuddy wrote in an article in the Boston Globe.
It’s natural to treasure peak moments of happiness, such as the birth of a child, a wedding, or even a perfect picnic when there are no mosquitoes, children play happily and there are no family quarrels. But those are transient moments.
“None of us can feel happy all the time,” said Cuddy, who teaches at Harvard Business School. “And expecting that we can, creates a stark discrepancy from reality- one that ironically leads us to feel less happy.”
Having a sense that our life has meaning is a critical element in overall well-being, especially as we grow older.
A study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet found that a sense of well-being affects longevity. Thirty percent of 9,000 people age 65 and over who had the least sense their lives had meaning, or were worthwhile, died within eight years.
Another study found that people with a stronger sense of well-being had better memory and fewer symptoms of depression.
Discovering meaning and purpose in life is likely to change through the decades. Often, however, directional signs show up early and become clearer with life experience.
One of the most well-known encouragers of finding your passion and purpose in life is Jack Canfield, originator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, which has become a series of self-discovery books, media productions and training programs for countless and varied groups of people, from welfare recipients to corporate executives.
Here are some tips from Canfield that have inspired many to find their passion and purpose:
Most of all, take small but continuous steps toward your purpose in life. That’s not a momentary experience, but one that generates enthusiasm and hope.
Day by day, that enthusiasm and hope will have a positive and lasting effect on your physical and mental health.
Cuddy, Amy, “Looking for Happiness? Try Purpose Instead,” Boston Globe, May 16, 2019
Windsor, T.D., “Sense of Purpose as A Psychological Resource for Aging Well,”
Developmental Psychology, July 5, 2015
Steptoe, Andrew, “Subjective Well-Being, Health and Aging,” The Lancet, Nov. 5, 2014
Canfield, Jack, “Maximizing Your Potential,” The Canfield Training Group, Santa Barbara, CA