Why I advocate for: a package deal; avoiding being a miserable purpose-driven engine; & balancing out the joy-suckers.
These days – I feel like everyone is telling us to live a purposeful life.
Research tells us that living a purposeful life has many benefits. These range from psychological well-being and life satisfaction to physical advantages too.
But, I believe that purpose is only part of the picture. Especially, at a time when life is busy with work and kids. And today I want to explain why.
What is purpose?
The definition of purpose would be a sensible starting place for this discussion. This is easier said than done.
In literature, the definition and components of purpose can differ. However, research into the psychology of purpose generally agrees that it has three components:
- Meaning: Your understanding of what brings personal meaning to your life
- Goals: The pursuit of personal goals that are aligned to your meaning
- The benefit of others: A component of your meaning-aligned goals will be for the benefit of others.
A bit about the research on living a purposeful life
The topic of life’s purpose has been mused over since ancient times. However, modern research for the psychology of purpose started with Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl.
During the Holocaust, Frankl observed a link between survivors and the presence of a sense of meaning. From the publication of his book Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) to the present-day field of positive psychology, there has been an abundance of data demonstrating the importance of purpose in our lives.
Let’s talk about the benefits of a purposeful life
Research demonstrates that purpose is an important component of psychological wellbeing. This is defined by both an enhanced positive state and a reduction in negative states such as anxiety, boredom, depression, and loneliness.
Purpose has also been found to correlate to many physical benefits. Including:
- Increase functioning of the immune system
- Decreased rate of Alzheimer’s onset
- Reduction in rates of stokes
- Increase in life expectancy.
Why living a purposeful life isn’t all beer and skittles
I am not disputing that purpose is linked to positive emotions and wellbeing. But, anyone who is a parent knows – it doesn’t always bring happiness.
Happiness itself is a minefield term (that I will discuss in detail at a later date). However, let’s define it today – as a sense of pleasure.
Studies have found that parenting is a highly purposeful experience. However, if you are a parent that finds this experience 100% pleasurable – get in touch – I’ve always wanted to meet a unicorn.
In fact, the data suggests that primary caregiving is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms.
Are you a miserable purpose-driven engine?
So – if you are in the business of parenting – you may have found sometimes there is a hole where happiness used to be.
It should also be considered that research has shown – over our lifetime happiness can be represented by a U curve. According to this model, we can expect a continual decrease in happiness until we reach 49 – when it upturns and increases (so we can expect to be very happy in our 70s).
(Am I filling you with hope and excitement? 🙁 – bear with me)
For these reasons, I propose life has to be a package deal (for us under mid-50s primary caregivers). To avoid an unhappy outlook day-to-day – we need to concentrate on sprinkling happiness on top of our purpose-driven lives.
Now, I feel I need to tell you – this sort of happiness or pleasure we are talking about does not have the positive benefits of purpose. In fact, it may have some detrimental effects. (I will also cover further at a later date). But, sometimes – you have got to do – what you have got to do.
Because – in my mind – to get yourself happily out of bed in the morning – the key is to find the right balance in your life.
Behavioural Scientist Paul Dolan proposes we need to find the balance between being a “pleasure machine” who experiences more pleasure than purpose and a “purpose engine” that experiences more purpose than pleasure in the day-to-day.
How balanced is your life?
Now, it may be pretty obvious to you whether your life is striking the right balance. But, if you are wondering. Take a moment to self-reflect on the week that has passed.
(If you want to get serious get out a spreadsheet or pens so you can do some math or draw some charts.)
- How much time have you spent on purposeful activities? Think about activities that felt fulfilling and worthwhile eg. projects at work, helping family or time exercising
- How much time have you spent on pleasurable activities? Think about things that have brought you joy and excitement.
- Is the balance right between the two?
What do you reckon – have you got the balance right?
The key to living a purposeful life – The package deal
So, although there is a myriad of reasons that you should be living a purposeful life. Remember, happiness should not be neglected. The very things that are giving you purpose could be sucking the joy out of your life. So, you need to strike the right balance.
For example, when the joy-suckers have gone to bed – put on your favourite tunes – pour your favourite drink – and get excited about your 70s… (the real winning age in the happiness U curve)