We are continuing our exploration of the four vitality domains that influence your health span, now focusing on the area of meaning/purpose and creativity. Isn’t it time to be your own heroine and be/do what has been waiting in the wings?
What brings you a sense of meaning? What gets you up in the morning looking forward to the day? Are you putting your unique talents/gifts to use somehow? Why let them lie dormant? Consider your own sense of meaning as you read!
If you are just diving into this mini-series, you may also want to read the introductory article on health span.
A sense of meaning, however that manifests for you, is not only essential to quality of life but longevity as well. That is what we mean by ‘health span’ – years lived + quality of life. Research suggests that a sense of meaning is associated with less risk of Alzheimer’s.
A study drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing found that individuals who earlier in life had embraced a higher sense of meaning were later living lives distinguished by health and well-being. This appears to be related to staying connected with friends socially, lower incidence of chronic disease and depression, increased physical activity, and more positive behaviors such as exercising and eating well. In other words, a sense of meaning and taking good care of yourself go hand in hand.
In another study of almost 7000 adults between the ages of 51 and 61, those without a sense of purpose were almost twice as likely to die in the four years of the study. That is a stunning effect!
Here is an entertaining and thoughtful TEDx talk by Michael Steger, a Colorado State researcher. He dives into the relationship between meaning and longevity around 9 minutes into his presentation. A study found that older persons with a sense of life meaning have a 57% less “hazard of dying.” He has a wonderful sense of humor, so you probably will enjoy the entire talk.
If you are curious about your own sense of meaning and purpose in your life, Dr. Steger has developed a well-known quick survey that calculates your score life meaning score. If you are above 24 on Presence (of meaning) and also above 24 on Search (for meaning), you feel your life has a valued meaning and purpose, yet you are still openly exploring that meaning or purpose.
With this score, life’s meaning is an ever-unfolding and ever-deepening process for you. You are more drawn to the question, “What can my life mean?” than to any single answer. Alternatively, you may have the presence of meaning and not be searching, or the reverse.
I am using meaning and purpose almost as synonymous, but they are not completely. Don’t you think you can have a purpose, but it is, in the end, not very meaningful to you? Or you can have a purpose that you thought had meaning, but looking back, did not?
When you look at various definitions, purpose is about having a driving force in life or sense of meaning. It is acting in harmony with your most cherished values and goals. So, you could say that purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning; meaning is what sparks your enthusiasm for the day. Or, from a quote in Jennifer Louden’s book Why Bother? (2020), “Meaning arises from loving life…”
This is where creativity enters the picture. Studies show that creativity can lead to greater longevity, as you may have guessed. Creativity is not necessarily creating art, music or poetry. It is about using the gifts and talents you have honed over your life, thus related to creating meaning in your life.
I just came across this wonderful quote (source not known) that highlights the benefits of using your gifts: “When you share the gifts that are uniquely yours, you are doing what you are meant to do. This offers a sense of satisfaction in itself.” That satisfaction is a form of meaning.
Researchers also don’t limit the definition of creativity to the arts. Author Norman Rosenthal defines being creative as “having the ability to make unexpected connections, either to see commonplace things in new ways – or unusual things that escape the attention of others – and realize their importance.” Another term is “everyday creativity.”
Aren’t we, in our 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, living in our prime time to use our gifts and talents in new ways? To have the time and wisdom to observe and see what might be created?
So, that brings us to the question of what activities can increase your sense of meaning?
What will bring you a sense of meaning is something only you can know. It relates to how we use the freedom of our phase of life.
Not all of us are drawn to purpose in the same way. In a national sample of 1,200 adults ages 50 to 92, researchers found that this freedom to choose is important to purposeful and non-purposeful people in different ways.
“About half of those with purpose emphasized the freedom to be involved in things beyond the self; the non-purposeful mostly looked at freedom as relief from the burdensome responsibilities of paid work and childrearing.”
This divide is very evident in my practice working with women over 60. It is important to clarify that one’s approach to purpose and what our freedom means is very personal and commands respect.
Where do you fit? My meaning is found by playing my part in the community of positive ageing. Colonel Sanders founded KFC at age 65. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books at age 65. My husband’s meaning is found as a physician who has experienced prostate cancer; he is challenging how this cancer is ignored in research even though it is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men.
Do not believe the repeated messages of fighting ageing because it is not valued, and it being about decline and dependence. Stand proud; show the world something different. Let’s all do that – together.
The Jefferson Center (Mayo Coach) suggests:
Other ideas that have been suggested in various articles include:
What is before you now, calling you? You may be a “hands on” grandparent, making a difference for your family. You may decide to write your book, at last. You may volunteer at your beloved library, or with kids who want to learn a sport you love. There are no limits. There are, at last, no rules. Find what flows from your heart into the world.
Now is the time. What is your approach to living with meaning and purpose? I’d love to hear how you create that in your life. Remember, there is no “right” way, only your way for you.
Is your life full of meaning? What was your purpose in getting up today? What do you do to feel relevant? What dreams do you have on your list of to-dos and how do you plan to achieve them?