LIFESTYLE MEDICINE: PASSION & PURPOSE

Find your Passions. Live Longer.

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THE SIGNIFICANCE

Finding passion and purpose in one’s life can not only affect our current sense of well being, but can result in longitudinal changes in mental health as well as cognitive resilience. Regardless of age, individuals can take actionable steps towards involvement in a diverse range of passions that will in turn improve mood, increase cognitive function, and help to provide meaningful connectedness to ourselves and others.

THE EVIDENCE

A recent study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reported finding passion and purpose is linked to activity engagement, better quality of sleep, and a reduced risk of social anxiety, which can help individuals to form meaningful relationships. These results help build resilience to common depressive symptoms such as reduced engagement, disrupted sleep, social withdrawal and feeling as if life is devoid of meaning. 

As we age, a sense of passion and purpose also helps to retain cognitive sharpness. In an 18-year longitudinal study from the Journal of Developmental Psychology, a high sense of purpose correlated with lower levels of functional disability, better reported health, and fewer depressive symptoms across time. This study also found that a high sense of purpose correlated with improved performance on cognitive tests for both episodic memory and speed of processing.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

Although to some it may feel like a daunting task, finding passion and purpose can be achieved at any stage of our lives. 

  • For young people and children: Stanford’s Professor of Education, William Damon, suggests pursuing actionable goals that are ‘beyond-the-self’. For parents seeking to encourage passion in their children, he suggests having a keen ear to your child’s interests and offering meaningful ways for your child to pursue them.
  • For adolescents and adults: Intentionally performed “happiness-related activities”, such as gratitude expression or journaling, as well as performing activities that reflect one’s identity, values and interests such as playing an instrument, joining  a theater group, or engaging in enjoyable exercise, have been shown to help promote personal feelings of passion and purpose. Additionally, repeating these activities with consistency multiplies their positive effects on our wellbeing
  • For aging individuals and nursing-home residents: Four key experiences have been found to promote purpose:
    • Physical and mental wellbeing: maintaining personal hygiene, having one’s needs met, and pursuing continued or regained health.
    • Belonging and recognition: feeling part of a community of family or friends, and for those residing in care facilities – creating trusted relationships with one’s care staff.
    • Performing personally treasured activities: this can take shape in ways such as enjoying the outdoors, performing stimulating activities with others, or personally meaningful activities on one’s own.
    • Spiritual closeness and connectedness: seeking spiritual relationships, religious or not, is another way of promoting a sense of connection to the world outside of one’s self.
  • For anyone wanting to live with passion: Seeking the help of a healthcare professional can provide you with tailored strategies and ideas to help you find your purpose.

THE TAKEAWAY

Finding passion and purpose can occur at any stage in life, and life may even require us to alter our passions as we age and take on more responsibilities. Whether it be finding a new activity that sparks your interest, becoming involved in your passion in an actionable way, or seeking out past experiences that brought you joy and closeness to others, there are always ways to discover and rediscover passion. Health practitioners can actively work with individuals to discover their passions by recommending meaningful lifestyle changes that suit their interests and values.

SELECTED SUPPORTING RESEARCH

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