I had never really thought of “purpose in life” as a component of happiness – until I took a positive psychology course from Martin Seligman, PhD, several years ago. The other components were positive emotion and engagement (since then, he has added positive relationship and achievement).
I remember thinking how much meaning I felt when I was at the height of my nurse-midwifery career – delivering babies, making headway for advanced practice nurses at our hospital and – well – changing the system for OB care for underserved women in our community. Meaning with a BIG M!
One thing I learned from Dr Seligman is that it takes a balance in all the areas to have happiness. Looking back, I loved the meaning but missed out on spending time with family and friends. And, while birth brought positive emotions, some of the long hours, lack of sleep and politics did not.
I have learned how to create more balance . . . to savor life . . . to look for strengths in others . . . to focus on hobbies and exercise that I find engaging. I have to admit, however, that finding meaning through my career may never be as strong as it was in my nurse-midwifery years.
No, wait, maybe that is not true. I loved midwifery because it was my own business . . . I could use my clinical knowledge and my love of entrepreneuring to make a difference for people in my community and region.
So, today I stepped into the action phase with a start of a reduced schedule at my public health job and the first actions toward developing a business plan for my practice. What fills me is a sense of optimism. I am reminded of how important it is for all of us to have meaningful work . . . after all, we spend the majority of our waking hours there.
Benefits and retirement packages are wonderful . . . but they do not ensure happiness. Our culture often confuses this. I watch people struggle to cling to those even when they are not happy . . . I, too, have been caught in this trap. Limiting happiness to weekends and vacations is limiting a sense of wellbeing in life.
How do you connect to your own sense of purpose through your daily work? How does this connection (or lack thereof) impact your health and wellbeing?
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