We are encouraged to think positively, to think of the glass as half full rather than half empty. That advice is good. But if truth be told, most of us will admit that at times we don’t give a flip about the glass or its contents, yet we somehow manage to kick into gear and get on with things. So positive thinking, as beneficial as it is, is not what drives us to do things. Purpose is the driver.
Purpose must be associated with action. Just as a goal without steps is only a wish, purpose without action is impotent. Living with purpose is being committed to move things forward and doing what needs to be done to make those things happen.
There is no universal path toward purposefulness. Each person’s purposeful path is their own. Be assured that to be worthwhile a purpose does not need to be lofty, noble, or all-consuming. It can be as simple as sharing kindness by giving a smile to someone who needs one or writing a LinkedIn testimonial; living with purpose has positive spill-over effects for others.
The online article What is Life Purpose? by Barb Leonard, PhD, RN, PNP and Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD of the University of Minnesota explains purpose as, “ …true purpose is about recognizing your own gifts and using them to contribute to the world—whether those gifts are playing beautiful music for others to enjoy, helping friends solve problems, or simply bringing more joy into the lives of those around you”. Leonard and Kreitzer also underscore that purposes often change as experiences change.
A rather extraordinary example of the power of purpose and appropriate action is summarized in a January 15, 2022 article in New Scientist magazine. In How to Hack Your Personality author Miriam Frankel wrote, “Traditionally, psychologists believed personality to be more or less fixed over your lifetime. Not anymore. Now it seems personality evolves throughout life and in recent years, several studies have demonstrated that it is possible to transform your personality on purpose.”
Frankel cited Brent Roberts, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, who conducted a study with colleagues to determine if 1523 study participants with a mean age of 25 could change just one personality trait, whether that trait was associated with extraversion or conscientiousness or the like. Each participant was coached to perform certain tasks via the smartphone app PEACH. At the end of three months, the majority of participants had succeeded in achieving their purpose. It is encouraging that this particular intervention is not a one-off. It confirmed the results of several smaller studies that found the same effects.
Purpose can guide us to make beneficial change that improves our lives and the lives of those with whom we associate. Key to ushering in change is the principle of reframing, which among other things, the PEACH app employed. A simple way to explain the principle and effect of re-framing is to take a piece of framed artwork off the wall where it has occupied the position for years, reframe it with a different color of mat or multiple mats and a totally different outer frame, and hang it back in the same position on the same wall. Then enjoy it when friends ask about your new art. Same art, different framing.
It is with a specific purpose that many gerontologists coach geriatric care recipients and family caregivers to reframe how they see difficult or negative situations. In other words, we help to shift perspective when it comes to thinking about a situation, person, or problem. For example, Beverly tells herself that the pain in her leg or back is because of her age when she really needs to see a doctor about it. Helping her to re-frame the way she views getting older steers her away from self-imposed ageism and delayed health care. Beverly’s new perspective becomes: I’m not getting around like I want to, so I’m going to the doctor.
When family members provide care, negative attitudes toward caregiving activities are in urgent need of re-framing. One pressed to participate in care giving has a harder time of it than one who sees it as just doing what they can to help. People with either type of mindset can benefit by coaching to see care giving activities as acts of kindness rather than obligations and/or what they do as a means to enhance their communication, coping, organizational, or other skills. Each person can use the caregiving experience as an opportunity to improve their own resiliency and insight as it pertains to their primary purpose(s).
Wherever we are in life’s journey and whatever our age, we can achieve something that will bring benefit to ourselves and others. It need not be earth-shatteringly awesome. Maybe it is writing an email expressing comfort or love. Think what an avid gardener, wheelchair bound and no longer gardening, can do to continue to create beautiful outdoor spaces. The purposeful gardener gets the word out that help to transform a plot of ground is only a Zoom call away.