Life Purpose

“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”

Pearl S. Buck

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one."

George Bernard Shaw

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Medicine is the noblest occupation. Saving lives, providing care and support to those in need should make every medical professional (Doctor, Nurse Practitioner, PA, Nurse, etc.) proud and highly motivated. He or she should go to work every day full of energy and optimism. However, the busy and often overloaded schedule of medical professionals can leave them exhausted, burnout and even disenchanted with their work. In such cases one tends to forget their life purpose, even when it’s as noble as medicine. The focus shifts to busyness, getting the job done, and this frequently leads to a decline in physical and emotional health, including symptoms such as fatigue, depression, insomnia, and social isolation. When lost in the the hamster wheel, we lose sight of the obvious, that the purpose of your life is not to be as busy as possible. Indeed, one of the biggest blocks to living your purpose is chronic busyness.

Purpose in life has been researched extensively in the past three decades and it is linked to longevity, happiness, mental and physical health. It is our goal here to present these findings and help doctors, nurse practitioners, and nurses to rekindle the fire of their motivation by strengthening their sense of purpose.

In particular, stronger feelings of life purpose are related to reduced risk of stroke and improved functioning of immune cells. Life purpose even helps for less belly fat and higher insulin sensitivity. In addition, it inspire us to take better care of ourselves. People with greater purpose tend to get more lifesaving tests to detect early disease (such as prostate exams and mammograms), and when they do get sick, they stay in the hospital fewer days.

The writer Leo Rosten said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.” But it doesn’t have to be a competition between being happy and being productive with purpose—they come together. Life purpose is what brings us eudaemonic happiness, the healthy feeling that we are involved in something bigger than ourselves. Eudaemonic happiness is not the transitory happiness we experience when eating or buying something we really want; it is enduring wellbeing. A strong sense of our values and purpose can serve as a bedrock foundation that helps us feel stability through life events, those earthquakes both minor and major. In hard times, we can bring them to mind over and over again. They may even protect us from threat stress at an unconscious automatic level.

Kashdan and McKnight’s model of Life Purpose

George Mason University researchers Todd Kashdan and Patrick McKnight have published numerous articles in peer reviewed journals. They have found that:

1. Given a purpose, people become more attuned to their intrinsic values, interests, and strivings to accomplish relevant goals (Aristotle’s eudaimonia).

2. A purpose in life stimulates behavioral consistency; serving as the motivating force to overcome obstacles, seek alternative means, and maintain focus on the goal in spite of changes to the environment that may interfere with the pursuit.

3. Purpose offers a testable, causal system that synthesizes outcomes including life expectancy, satisfaction, and mental and physical health. These outcomes may be explained best by considering the motivation of the individual—a motivation that comes from having a purpose.

From McKnight, P.E., & Kashdan, T.B. (2009).  Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology, 13, 242-251.

Todd Kashdan, PhD is a world recognized authority on well-being, stress, and anxiety, He  has published over 175 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is the author of several best-selling books. Dr. Kashdan is Professor of Psychology and Senior Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University.

Patrick McKnight, PhD is an Associate Professor at George Mason University.


A Second Perspective, Lissa Rankin, MD

Another, more personal, perspective on life purpose was developed by Lissa Rankin, M.D., a physician whose research led her to discover that our bodies have natural self-repair mechanisms that can be activated or disabled based on thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that originate in the mind.

Dr. Rankin is the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling. She is the founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute. Her scientific data shows that loneliness, pessimism, depression, fear, and anxiety damage the body, while gratitude, meditation, and life purpose activate the body’s self-healing processes.

Dr. Robert Holden – A Third Perspective

Since 1992, Dr. Robert Holden has been the director of The Happiness Project—a project that explores the psychology, sociology and spirituality of happiness. Since 1996, he has been the director of Success Intelligence, a project that explores the heart and soul of authentic success. Central to this work, is the exploration of life purpose.

Dr. Holden has developed a series of life purpose exercises that happened to be so successful, they have brought him international fame and respect. He is endorsed by Oprah and other social influencers and often speaks on TED.

Here is a quote that describes the basic values of his model:

Your purpose is bigger than your ego. All too often, the ego—the voice in your head that believes you are separate from everyone else—wants you to find your purpose so you will feel special, unique, superior and less neurotic than others. However, to discover your purpose, you have to be willing to connect to something bigger than your ego (your "mini me", to quote Austin Powers). Connection is the key to inspiration.

It is the spiritual imperative of every human to overcome his or her perceived sense of aloneness. This is the key to big, real, meaningful, juicy success. Your purpose is to heal the illusion of separation and realize your oneness with creation. Why is this important? Because your purpose is not just about you; it involves your family, your friends and ultimately all of humanity. Knowing this helps you to open yourself up to inspiration and help from other people, from the divine, from nature and from life itself.

The purpose of your life is to discover who you are. It is to meet yourself and to identify what you are made of and what you are made for. To do this, you have to be willing to give yourself some special attention. You have to stop "going" "doing" and "chasing" and start spending more time "being" with yourself. You have to connect consciously with what I call your unconditioned self, the original essence of who you are. Your unconditioned self wants you to know yourself. It wants you to know who you really are.