The purpose of life

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Neil Ostafichuk

A number of years ago at a conference, I attended a session with Terry Small – “the Brain Guy” – on brain health and it was mindboggling what I didn’t know about the little computer behind our glasses. Recently, he explored the meaning of life, well, actually the Purpose of Life and found some interesting items of note – mainly ‘It’s not about you’.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.” I think we probably inherently know this as well as understanding that having a purpose improves the lives of others. A recent study has also shown that having a strong purpose for your life can protect your brain, and prevent mental decline. It may even stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Patricia Boyle of Rush University Medical Center says, “This finding is exciting because it suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health….” I guess my theory that sitting on the couch with the remote keeps your muscles and brain from getting used up too fast just got bumped down a notch.

Dr. Boyle’s study was published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry and had scientists follow 246 people for ten years. They were evaluated as to what their purpose in life was, and how they derived meaning from their lives. When these people passed away their brains were examined and the findings were remarkable! Those who had a strong purpose for living had a 2.4 times greater likelihood of being free from Alzheimer’s! The American Heart Association’s journal “Stroke” even reported that having a strong purpose in life makes you less likely to develop brain damage due to blockages of blood flow as you age.

So, when you get up in the morning, what are you excited about? It seems that having a purpose in your life could play a very important part of your health outcome and really, having a meaningful purpose just makes life more fun. It makes you more interesting. We enjoy being around you.

Having a purpose in life looks different for everyone. It should be something that motivates you and that you derive pleasure from. The possibilities are many: volunteer for a local organization, babysit grandchildren, travel, learn a new hobby, take up a sport, learn to dance, write a book, go back to school, learn a new language, serve on a committee, mentor someone, learn to play music…..

For those that have a desire to dig deeper,  I once heard about an exercise to help you find your real purpose in life; not your job or daily stuff or long term goals but the real reason you are here.

Take out a blank sheet of paper and write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”

Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.

Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.

You may end up writing 10, 100 or even 500 answers and it might take 20 minutes, an hour or a few sessions to find what truly resonates. Discovering your purpose is the easy part. The hard part is keeping it with you on a daily basis and working on yourself to the point where you become that purpose. Good luck!


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