It’s a question to which there are no right or wrong answers as everyone has their own sense of purpose. The answer which would be a cause for concern is “I don’t know”.
Those who have a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives have been shown to be more resilient than those who do not. Each person’s purpose or meaning will be unique to them, but their awareness of it can make the difference between success and failure, or even life and death.
The psychiatrist and neurologist Victor Frankl believed that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy’”. As a concentration camp survivor he witnessed life and death on a daily basis during his incarceration. He wrote afterwards about his experiences and using his professional skills to help others in the camps.
He believed that the difference between those who lived and died came down to those who knew the meaning of their life. He helped fellow prisoners with feelings of despondency realise that something was still expected of them in life. Finding the uniqueness of their meaning, whether it was to be reunited with their child who had been safely transported to another country or to finish a series of scientific books, would be enough to provide them with the purpose to carry on rather than attempt suicide. Even in the toughest circumstances, he believed that once “He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’”.
Having a purpose and meaning in life has since been shown by research to:
- improve mental and physical health
- decrease the chances of depression
- increase overall wellbeing and life satisfaction
- enhance self-esteem and enhance resiliency
… and this perhaps goes some way to explain why those who single-mindedly seek happiness can ironically be left feeling less happy.
In a 2013 study the researchers found that although a meaningful life and a happy life will overlap in certain ways, they are ultimately very different. They found that leading a happy life correlated with being a ‘taker’ whilst leading a meaningful life related to being a ‘giver’. They also found that negative events in life decrease happiness but increase the level of meaning your life has.
Which leaves us re-visiting that vital question, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?”
This is one of a series of articles on aspects of resilience. You can access them all from this post Resilience Skills: An A-Z of definitions of the terms used.
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