Health & Fitness

Purpose in Life = Happiness

Money and happiness get all of the ink, but living with purpose might be the truest and straightest line to health and happiness. Researchers in the cutting-edge field of positive psychology ("hey, let's study what is good about our brains and behavior rather than all this dysfunction") have discovered individuals who feel a "meaningfulness" or purpose in life report less pain and reduced anxiety over a six-month period than volunteer subjects who score lower for meaning in their lives.

Other studies show purpose in life can significantly reduce stress and, in turn, discourage related substance abuse. Research also shows life purpose can decrease episodes of depression.

A 2006 University of Missouri study found that the life purpose of believing in God and participating in spiritual practice helped African-American women to better confront and overcome a breast cancer diagnosis. Interestingly, the researchers found spirituality leads to better information-gathering on the part of patients. The study was published in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights.

"We found that spirituality positively affected African-American women's willingness to talk about breast cancer, pay attention to information about breast cancer and engage in preventive measures," said Glenn Leshner, associate professor of radio-television in Missouri's School of Journalism and a co-author of the study.

You Can Do It

Finding purpose in life is almost always going to involve relationships (becoming a monk perhaps being the exception).

University of Washington marriage researcher John Gottman is well respected for his practical advice on building relationships, which he dispenses after a couple of decades of conducting studies on the subject.

Gottman suggested that we concentrate on the positives and make it a point to avoid negative interactions. In fact, he says every negative action or comment in an important relationship will require five positive interactions to "offset the emotional damage." Controlling your negative actions will enhance your relationship, and leave more time and energy for being positive.

What if You Slip?

Richard J. Leider is an author and CEO of The Inventure Group, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that works with executives and organizations about find your life's purpose and calling. He gives clients a checklist of "exercises" to discover a deeper meaning and purpose:

Reflection: At the end of each day, review which activities have been "life-giving" and which are "life-draining."

Meditation: A method to break away from technology that might be "life-draining." Meditation can revive you while providing some peace and quiet.

Journaling: Leider suggests writing about the life-giving and life-draining experiences, especially to discover ways to get more of the former and less of the latter.

Prayer: Studies cited by the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing show that regular prayer, however you practice it, can help you reach clearheadedness more frequently and reliably.

Best of All

Living with purpose gives you a recurring touchstone or goal, which leads to feeling less anxious about your direction in life. That underlying calm about your life can pay big health dividends.

Plus, get this. Being more calm about your life direction and purpose typically leads to being more organized.

That sort of result is no doubt a healthier way to meet the holiday season - and not spend too much time looking for your keys.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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