Haims: Happiness is temporary but finding value and purpose is enduring
The decline of mental health is pervasive. It is not an issue specific to race, ethnicity, age or cultural group. While bullying, abuse, drugs, bereavement, increased stress, hopelessness, and widespread social media use can have a great impact, perhaps it is a purpose and the responsibility to something greater than oneself that is missing that is a cause for the rise in mental health concerns.
Even though the U.S. economy has been on the rise over the past decade, data indicates that happiness and life satisfaction have steadily declined. There is an emptiness eating away at people, and you don’t have to be a therapist to see it.
Finding purpose and value in one’s life may help us all achieve greater satisfaction. As Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Each and every person has special gifts and attributes that set them apart from others. Recognizing one’s unique differences and embracing them can be transformative and give us purpose. However, learning what is unique within each of us and figuring out what we are meant to do with our lives can make “purpose” illusive.
Finding a purpose
Discovering one’s purpose is not something accomplished in a day, week, or year. The purpose is developed over time. It is evolutionary and should be fostered in our youth. It grows from our connection to family, friends, and the community around us. Once found, it often tends to unite us with others and helps us understand why we are here.
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Here are some questions to ask yourself that may assist in identifying your purpose:
- What brings you joy and how can you express it to others?
- What do you love to do?
- Ask yourself if your hurts can be transformed into a means for helping others.
- Discover what you’re passionate about — look at the books, magazines, and music you listen to. Notice any themes?
As we travel life’s path, we are often faced with making decisions that have outcomes and consequences which define our life. These decisions are often based on our core values that have been established and learned in our adolescence.
One’s core values are often learned from observing family, friends, relationships and the community around us. They are unspoken rules that define us, help us know who we are, and provide direction for us to live authentically. Some values may be social or cultural, while others may be political. Sometimes they help us and at other times they may hinder us. This is why making a conscientious effort to identify and follow your values is so vitally important.
After considering the questions above, what can help you define your life’s purpose and values?
For me, I find great purpose and value in assisting others. When I assist our senior community, I find great purpose in supporting their efforts to age within their own home, maintain social interactions, and advocating for them with medical needs.
Further, when I have the opportunity to bridge generations, I feel complete, fulfilled, and rewarded. Perhaps these feelings were instilled while in college when I took a psychology course and learned about Erik Erikson and his philosophy of social development. Dr. Erikson believed that developing connections with a younger generation can help older adults feel a greater sense of fulfillment. Likewise, he asserted that there were benefits for the young as well.
Frequently, I find that when youth spend time with elders, they learn about patience, history, and the time it takes to establish short and long-term goals. Most importantly, when I see that a young person becomes aware that there is more to life than the here and now, that the present is just a moment in time and that there is a whole world of experiences to be had in the future, I feel and hope that the youth will learn and understand that today’s fears and problems can be resolved given time and perseverance.
Relationships between the young and old are important for society. They help ensure that the young receive the attention, mentoring and guidance they often need to develop and learn critical thinking, problem-solving and social interaction. Moreover, such relationships help the young embrace risk and failure and learn that these events are building blocks for future endeavors and not the end-all.
When intergenerational engagement exists, wisdom, life experiences, and emotional stability are often shared in meaningful ways.