Finding Meaning In Life: A Discovery That Might Help You Live Better:
A lot of the time when we think about health, it can seem fairly nuts & bolts.
But ancient-science has always said there was more to it.
And the more crazy health & wellness sites you read, the more you hear from that point of view.
But since it’s so far-off from the daily, pedestrian, trudge,
Most people might think it’s both a silly and elusive idea that there might be more.
So one more out-there study this time by UCSD, adds another link in the chain connecting lowly body to lofty mind, and it’s appropriate for just this time of year…
Meaning Is A Question Inside Of The Enigma That Is You:
For many of us, we can spend an awful lot of trying to decipher the meaning of things.
And at strange, liminal, times of the year, those questions and themes can resurface more often.
One good study to remember as we come back to them is the one on Meditation,
That shows just how many thousands of genes have their expression changed even by beginners!
But The Short Answer for the current one is that an apex of the internal journey tends to occur for people just past middle-age, and can be associated with many health benefits, all of which have their origin in your mind.
Read on to find out the details…
Maybe It’s Better To Start Small?:
The search for Meaning is a tough one, and this study suggests it.
But you aren’t going to be Yoda on your first day out there, so you should probably cut yourself a break.
One way to do that, which also backs-up the UCSD work, is to start somewhere closer to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Meaningful Work”,
And from there, move on to Purpose.
In previous work, it’s been shown at-least this second one can lead to a healthier, longer, life.
Because, by putting your soul on that informal “To Do List”, you get closer to a certain version of Happiness.
-Especially if it’s a direction you choose-out Willingly.
The Health-Benefits Of Purpose:
Here are just a few of the health-benefits attributed to people who have achieved Meaning’s lesser-cousin, Purpose:
1) Purposeful study subjects potentially had lower long-term levels of stress hormones
2) They also probably had less Total Stress, and Toxic-Stress, too
3) They also had less Chronic Inflammation
4) As a result, lower levels of stress-driven Inflammation+signaling chemicals like C-Reactive Protein, IL-6, and perhaps IL-1B
5) Lower levels of Stress would also Activate Fewer Genes related to Inflammation as well
And if you think of The Whitehall Study that showed terrible health-outcomes for people who felt stuck in unresolvable Stress of even mid-to-low-grade,
Then getting to “Meaningful Work”, where you will spend a lot of time, seems to be a good antidote to that chaos of the soul.
Treating yourself well psychologically is so important, that other work has shown people with high levels of stress even negated the benefits of good nutrition,
Their indicators of health looked more like someone who ate fried junk-food all the time.
Meaningful-Work May Come First And Also Combat Stress:
Strangely-enough, “Meaningful Work” does seem to be on the path to what UCSD is talking about, especially because it’s so far away in-life.
Here are a few of those components for people who would seek them out in their own choice of profession:
1) Something You Deliberately, Willingly, Choose
2) Something You Can Improve-At As You Go
3) A Profession & Path With Some Control Over Your Circumstances
4) An Amount Of Complexity That Keeps You Interested & Growing, But Not Overwhelmed
5) Accrued Benefits That Are Proportional To Effort
And Now Voila! The UCSD Study Results On Meaning+Health:
In a relatively-small group of just over 1,000 subjects,
People aged from 21 all the way to over 100 were interviewed and given self-reporting questionnaires.
They were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with statements like:
1) “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life”
2) “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”
This data was taken from the San Diego County SAGE Study, the Successful Aging Evaluation taken from lots of different age groups.
What the researchers found was both strange and bifurcated.
Although “Meaning” was associated with better physical and mental health,
And the lack of it was associated with worse states for both of them,
That lofty life-apex was most-frequently reported by people around the age of 60.
Meaning Arrives Late, And Can Be Elusive Everywhere Else:
But almost-completely unreported before that age;
Plot-Twist! -Or even After!
Plot-Twist 2! And subjects who reported being the most in-search of Meaning,
Were the ones with the Least of it in their lives.
And that’s where we ouroboros our way back to “Meaningful Work”
Because, according to the study-authors, it seems a lot of this Meaning really had to do with career-progress.
Study Authors Believe It’s About Career & Sociology:
In the early-decades of your life, you’re trying to figure out and even understand who you are.
As you build yourself up from there and into a job, that becomes a career, which progresses,
-Hopefully in some kind of direction that’s meaningful to you and meets at-least a few of Malcolm Gladwell’s criteria,
Then more and more parts of your life and mindset become settled, and you may have even built or started a family.
Perhaps you’ve even achieved a high-point in your career, and that’s another apex that’s entered into the books.
Big Changes Disrupt The Elusive Achievement:
Plot Twist 1, Revisited: But then shortly-after your 60s, The Fall!
You retire from your job, health-problems for you and people you know set-in,
And you fall off the summit of the Meaning mountain!
Then in some ways, you’re back to being a bit like a 20-year-old, searching again, but perhaps wiser and more keen.
So in terms of more specific benefits, the cousin-concepts or results of Meaningful Work and Purpose,
Like Happiness and Gratitude for your life & experiences are also tied to health-benefits.
So they may also come along for the ride, as you get closer to Dr. Aftab’s apex of Meaning.
Here are a few of them.
Learned Habits Of Gratitude, Grit, And Happiness May Save You:
1) Less Overeating
2) Better Sleep Quality & Duration
3) Reduction of Depression Over Time
4) Better Personal Health & Self-Care Practices
5) More Enduring Long-Term Happiness
Ed Diener & Sarah Pressman’s analysis of over 100 Happiness studies suggest improvements in:
2) Sleep Quality
4) Exercise Quality & Frequency
5) Cardio Health
6) Inflammation Reduction
8) Hormone Function
9) Increased Youthfulness Even In Parts Of The Body’s Cells
10) Possibly Slower-Aging From Better Mitochondrial Function
So What Can I Do To Get There Or Recover The Path Toward Meaning?:
Some of the things you can do in your own mind are similar to what we talked about in “Vacation By Diagnosis”
Except this time, it’s Lifestyle By Diagnosis:
1) Take a personality test like The Big 5/OCEAN to get a handle on what your temperament is, esp. compared to others.
2) Do a Personal History/Future Exercise to help elicit your Values & sincere Wishes. (yes, I realize this sounds like an ad for Jordan Peterson. Sorry! no affiliation.)
3) Uncover Your Limiting Beliefs, Unrealistic Standards, and Subconscious Habits with something like “Feeling Good”, by Dr. David D. Burns
4) Realize there may be a Difference Between Natural Abilities vs. Choices, Values, and where you Actually find Purpose compared to where you’re “supposed” to find it.
5) Read about the concept of Ikigai and point all those previous exercises toward it, along with some Brainstorming & Journaling.
So those should help most of us uncover the difference between the path we may have accidentally fallen into in our lives,
And contrast it with one we’ve unearthed from our subconscious, perhaps where it’s occasionally been hinting at us for years.
From there you get Purpose, then Optimism about the future, and as time stretches-out and your subconscious-philosophy begins to intersect your external-reality,
Perhaps even Meaning; but as the study suggests, the wrong kind of search won’t get you there.
Staying On The Not-Exactly-Straight & Narrow Does Have Health-Benefits:
So I know it may seem an awful, long, symbolic journey to get to the UCSD results,
But as we’ve cited-before, the future may not be just about psychological or mental health improvements,
But a return to a few crazy ideas from times that were strange & dark (just like the end of the year),
Where people believed in things like Psychosomatic Medicine.
Because the actual health-impacts of Stress are Very real and not VooDoo at-all.
And while none of us are likely to become X-Men, like Professor Xavier,
Maybe further research on the health-impacts of Meaning’s supporting-cast can help us combine a few, scientifically-proven components to achieve similar-results to the SAGE and be our best at every step of the way; both before and after the age of 60.