Living

Common Threads — Find Your Purpose in Life

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When your life has purpose, you have structure needed to move forward, and you feel fully engaged in life. To gain a sense of purpose, search for what you CAN do, what you LOVE to do, and what you were BORN to do.

When we are young, our purpose centers on caring for our families in so many ways. Purpose is clear. Frequently, we primarily become involved in our children’s activities and interests and derive purpose from them. Hopefully, we find purpose through our work as well. If not, we may work only to sustain ourselves financially, experiencing a lack of fulfillment.

Neuroscience research has shown that a sense of purpose has a positive effect on us neurologically and physiologically. Studies at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience identified the posterior superior temporal cortex as the brain structure that is hard-wired for contribution, a characteristic linked to purpose. When we have a sense of purpose, we are focused on others, either individuals or organizations, and strive to contribute goods, services, or money to causes dear to us. These actions can bring a sense of belonging and connectedness so necessary to us all.

When helping others, we get the rewards of the feel-good brain neurotransmitters oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals support social bonding, empathy, motivation, movement, and mood. Further, the body’s “natural morphine,” endorphin, is increased when we serve others, helping us to feel better mentally and physically and gain a sense of self-fulfillment.

A major research study done at Chicago’s Rush Medical Center, found that people who have meaning and purpose in their lives have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment later in life. The study also found less “mild cognitive impairment” and a slower rate of cognitive decline in old age when we center our purpose around others.

Purpose can make us biologically resilient. Studies have shown a 72 percent lower risk of stroke and a 44 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease as a result of strong purpose. Blood level studies have shown that purpose may cause a calming effect on the body’s inflammatory response implicated in so many diseases.

At various life stages and especially following retirement, people may feel the need for a new or a rekindled purpose in life. Thinking about what we enjoy doing and what we can share with others is a way to start the journey towards a new purpose. You could work on self-development and learning new skills to reach the goal by attending a life-long learning class or a lecture at The Commons at Central Hall or elsewhere. If you have special information or skills to share, you could teach a course.

Opportunities to volunteer are available in so many different ways throughout our area. Take the time to explore and match your passion and gifts to agencies, clubs, or programs. If you belong to a church, may find purpose in its projects and service activities. Look for a need that fits your talent and purpose. Connect with others with similar interests. If there isn’t a group to fit your purpose, you could start your own. Small, service businesses that help others can give us sense of purpose, too.

Our species would not have survived without concern for others. The need is greater than ever everywhere in the world today. Find your purpose to enrich your life and the lives of others.

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