Living a Life of Purpose: The Fountain of Youth
BY BOB AND JUDITH WRIGHT
How would you like to live a life of more happiness, more fulfillment, and more joy? How would you like to build stronger connections with your spouse, family, friends, and coworkers? Would you like more energy and greater health?
Surprisingly, the secret isn’t a new diet, a magic pharmaceutical solution, or a total life overhaul.
It’s about living life with a sense of purpose.
What’s a Life Without Purpose?
Bear Bryant was the national championship football coach for the University of Alabama. He lived and breathed his football career. After playing college ball when he was younger, he immersed himself in coaching and eventually became one of the greatest, if not THE greatest college football coach of all time. Bryant stated time and time again that football was his purpose and that when he quit football, he woul
At 68, he decided to retire after setting numerous records and leading his team to many victories. Famously, in an interview on his last day, a reporter asked him, “What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “probably croak in a week.”
Surely as he predicted, within four weeks of quitting football, he experienced a massive heart attack and died. Doctors said they were amazed that Bryant, as a heavy smoker and drinker with a severe heart condition, had been able to work as he did for so many years.
So, what was driving him to stave off the effects of his heart condition for so many years while he flourished as a coach in a high-pressure, high-intensity sport like football? A sense of purpose.
The good news is that we don’t need to be a championship coach to have a sense of purpose. We don’t need to be a President or CEO of a major company. We don’t need to be famous. We don’t even need to be the best grandparents, spouses, parents, or friends. Having a purpose really means purposeful living moment by moment of each day. Purpose means orienting to the “why” of our life in what we are already doing. It’s within each of us to live a life filled with meaning and purpose. Living a purpose-filled life leave us feeling sharper, younger, more vibrant, and more fulfilled.
Are You Lobotomized?
Neuroscientists have discovered purpose is truly the secret to living longer, healthier lives. Purpose is essentially the fountain of youth. When we’re living a life of purpose, our brains are sharper and light up with more activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Want to know if your prefrontal cortex is working? Ask yourself if you ever:
- Have difficulty focusing on a task
- Struggle to make decisions
- Put off healthful behaviors until later
- Feel lazy, tired, lethargic, uninspired
- Desire sameness and routine
- Struggle to adapt or modify your actions based on results
- Experience emotional outbursts when your routine is disrupted
Believe it or not, these are all symptoms displayed by someone who has undergone a frontal lobotomy!
Acting with a sense of purpose, on the other hand, lights up these “deadened” areas of our brain in the frontal lobe. It causes us to engage—to live the life we’ve always dreamed of. It improves our brain function, memory, and logic. Purpose helps us avoid burnout, cope with stress, and utilize our resources (time, money, energy) more efficiently. Those who have discovered a strong sense of purpose have more joy, greater optimism, and increased happiness.
Without purpose, all of these stressors may distract us and take away from our ability to navigate our lives.
We all set out wanting to become our best selves, don’t we? We all hope to live great lives. We want to fulfill our potential. But then, life gets in the way. We hit bumps in the road. We face challenges. We get busy. We may experience relationship struggles with our spouse or family. We may even face situations out of our control—illness, natural disasters, changes in the economy.
Without purpose, all of these stressors may distract us and take away from our ability to navigate our lives. We fall into patterns and follow routines. It may feel as though life is simply happening to us, rather than something we’re intentionally creating for ourselves. We slip into lobotomized-mode. We get tired, burnt out, exhausted. We’re on autopilot.
Then we secure our lobotomized state by numbing ourselves with our soft addictions – TV’s, Netflix, Starbucks, watching sports, shopping. Believe it or not, this meandering through life actually eats up years of time. When we look back on our lives and think, “Where did the time go?” the answer is somewhat surprising:
- People spend an average of 12 hours per day in front of screens (both computers and TV’s). In the U.S., we spend on average of 5 hours a day watching television. This means that by the time we’re 60, we may have spent 9 years watching the tube!
- Similarly, studies have shown in the U.S. we spend on average 6 hours per week shopping and only 40 minutes per week with our kids.
This isn’t to mention the time we spend zoned out and disconnected, going through the same routines over and over.
The truth is, it’s much easier to think of ways to be healthy in the future than it is to manage our mood and satisfaction in the moment.
It’s no wonder time seems to fly by!
The ancient Greeks had a word, Akrasia, that referred to acting in a way counter to our best interest and judgement. It’s hard to stay attuned and “checked in” all the time, and we all do things that aren’t good for us like procrastinating, zoning out, avoidance, and distraction. We settle for temporary satisfaction like the thrill of scrolling through social media, filling up our shopping bag, or eating another slice of pizza.
The truth is, it’s much easier to think of ways to be healthy in the future than it is to manage our mood and satisfaction in the moment. This is why we think we’ll start our diet tomorrow or begin a project next weekend.
Many of us fall into a pattern that’s comfortable, but not satisfying. We settle for what’s easy, rather than taking on actions to learn and grow. Growth is sometimes hard, even painful, but within each of us is the ability to push ourselves and develop into what we refer to as our next, most radiant self.
What Living a Life of Purpose Means
Purpose doesn’t come from perfection, but from living our lives in a meaningful way. It’s about extracting meaning from each moment. As we’ve discussed in the past, vacationing with a sense of purpose helps our trips feel longer, more fulfilling, and more satisfying. Conversations with our grandchildren that are purpose-driven lead us to meaningful topics and build our connections.
We can’t extract our singular sense of purpose from our relationships, however. We can’t expect our relationships to make us happy, or our identity as grandparents to provide our sole source of meaning. Rather than living through the lives of others, it’s important we learn to live full, vibrant, meaningful lives for ourselves.
When we intentionally engage with others, we feel connected, excited, and alive. It’s the difference between awkward small talk about the weather with a stranger, versus a stimulating conversation with a great friend when you’re really connecting.
Yet, we can discover purpose everywhere. Even small, meaningful moments with strangers give us a greater sense of purpose. Greeting a fellow jogger on the street with eye contact and a smile or striking up a conversation with the barista at your local coffee shop adds more vibrance to every day. Our frontal lobe is activated, the lights go on, and we feel more attuned and alive.
Purpose is different from goals. Goals are the action—what you do—while purpose is the reason why you do it. Purpose is a big concept…but it’s easily distilled down to the deeper “why” behind each moment. Living without purpose doesn’t mean you aren’t achieving goals. In fact, we may check plenty of items off our to-do list and still not feel fulfilled. We may feel we’re a “human doing” but the real question is, are we a “human being?” Are we living consciously?
If you feel like you’re living a life without purpose—if time passes you by, if your energy feels low, if you feel restless and unsatisfied—examine your behavior. Every interaction, every action we take every day can be infused with purpose. Whether you’re a grandparent, parent, friend, or neighbor, purpose gives us a sense of ourselves. Purpose helps us bring our higher goals into focus, and avoid distractions, timewasters, and soft addictions. It helps us focus on meaning and propels us forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS – BOB AND JUDITH WRIGHT
The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright, are a husband/wife duo and Chicago-based relationship counselors. They are award-winning authors and trainers and have appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, the Today Show, the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, and Vanity Fair. They are the co-authors of “The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.