Updated: Nov 4, 2021
The key connection between our wellbeing and our purpose
A couple of weeks ago I read a comment on an article about overstretched professionals on LinkedIn. “If people are on the edge of burnout, the last thing they need is a “fluffy wellbeing proposal”, was the response. Although I don´t know what the assumptions were behind this person´s point of view, the notion of employee wellbeing as something that has little connection with bottom-line results is still prevalent.
Yet, the pandemic has marked a point in which we cannot go back to ‘business as usual’. If organizations want to be relevant after the next decade, we believe that they will need to focus on and address the human needs of their valuable employees.
Let´s start with some data about the relationship between wellbeing, productivity, and health.
Well-being is very closely linked to health, productivity and performance. A large body of research shows that people who are in good physical, mental, and emotional health are more likely to deliver optimal performance in the workplace than employees who are not. But wellbeing is not only important at an individual level, people who feel good in their own skin also show a greater likelihood of contributing to their communities than employees with poorer well-being.
Healthy and happy employees have a better quality of life, a lower risk of disease and injury, and enjoy increased work productivity.
'Although in general, with age comes a higher sense of wellbeing, people in their 50s who report low psychological well-being are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression when in their 60s, independent of personality, demographic, economic, and physical health variables.
This is only a very small sample of research outcomes that imply a relationship between productivity, health, and wellbeing. Instead of bombarding you with more data, maybe it is more relevant to explore how we actually can develop higher levels of wellbeing?
Contrary to what we are inclined to believe, wellbeing is not a "concept" but a set of skills, qualities of a healthy mind that can be learned and cultivated over time. The center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin has done research into the factors that shape well-being and how it manifests itself in the mind and body. The framework focuses on four pillars that can improve with training and make a person more resilient during more challenging periods in life:
Level of awareness of your environment and internal bodily sensations, thoughts, and feeling
Level of connection - How related you are to others: the degree to which you practice appreciation, kindness and compassion
Insight - The extent to which curiosity and learning play a role in your life
Purpose - Having meaning and a direction in life
For example, being more aware of what is going on in ourselves and others can decrease stress and enhance positive emotions, something that can be trained through mindfulness practices.
More surprising probably is the positive relationship that exists between having a purposeful aim in life and our sense of wellbeing.
How does this relationship exist? Neurobiological - having a purpose alters the brain. It decreases the reactivity of the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain that drives our body´s fear and stress responses and plays a pivotal role in memory. A less reactive amygdala means experiencing less stress and a greater level of resilience. “Having a purpose-in-life” changes the way we “filter” and process incoming information, it protects against depression and has a profound impact on our long-term health with lower incidences of stroke, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.
For professionals who are interested in increased resilience, focus and performance, knowing what matters to you and actively contributing to something bigger than yourself is as important as taking care of your sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
Having a sense of purpose even decreases your chance of premature death, according to a 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. Given the fact that having a purpose seems so beneficial for our wellbeing and health, where can we start with finding and living your purpose?
If you want to explore your life purpose, you might want to ask yourself
What significantly important themes have run consistently through your life?
What social issues, industry sectors or ecological factors draw your attention?
What do you sense that the world needs that you are uniquely placed to offer?
What have you come to earth this lifetime to generate, for you to become, to evolve?
Richard Jacobs proposes doing the following exercise: “Imagine there is a Book of Life. Everyone has a paragraph in the book consisting of three sentences. It describes what the person gave in his or her lifetime. What would you like it to say?”
Find the sweet spot between what you care about, what your natural talents are, what drives you and what your community or organization needs. Not everybody aspires to have a massive, transformative purpose with a capital P (life purpose). You can also find purpose on a smaller scale: “Am I making a contribution?”
What do you stand for? What principles do you hold highest? What makes you get up in the morning? How can you apply these principles in everything you do? Find alignment between your values and action
What is the biggest difference you would like to make in your family, community, or organization? What would be the first step you can take?
Finding and actively living your purpose is an iterative process. It will take some time and it has to do with both your goal and the way you behave along the way. But putting wellness at the center of your life, and your business will help you make important decisions so that you can sustainably have the impact that matters to you.