sunrise silhouetteLet’s face it: New Year’s resolutions can be the stuff of angst – especially if you find yourself sliding back to the habits you just told yourself you’d finally kick.

But there’s a beauty to them, too.

For one, they’re a sign of self-care – an expression of intent to take better care of ourselves than maybe we have in the past; a statement that our health and well-being matter; that we are worth caring for.

It’s not for nothing that self-care is the first of Dr. Joe’s 8 Keys to Radiant Health.

The mental, emotional and spiritual realities we live by determine how we experience each day. We mobilize our minds, emotions and spirit towards health by taking time each day to immerse ourselves in something much bigger than we are. In fact a meaningful daily practice such as prayer, affirmations, meditation or volunteering matters just as much to health as medical care.

No matter the form, the practice of self-care is one aspect of living with a sense of purpose. Yet truth be told, many of us have a hard time identifying just what that is exactly. According to CDC data,

about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.

Yet,

research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.

Research even suggests that it may lengthen our lives.

Now a new study in the Journal of Health Psychology sheds a little bit of light on why this may be so.

The study used data from a long-term health study of a diverse population. Participants were asked about various health behaviors – how often they ate vegetables, for instance, or how they slept – as well as exercise habits. Their data was analyzed in several different ways. According to a Washington University news release,

In all scenarios, having a sense of purpose had a significant direct effect on self-rated health and a more modest, indirect effect on individual health behaviors.

As lead author Patrick Hill noted,

Participants reporting a higher sense of purpose also reported a greater likelihood to enact all health behaviors of interest and higher self-rated health…. Overall, these findings point to the importance of considering healthy lifestyle habits as a prominent explanation for why purposeful individuals experience better health outcomes.

The findings, he added, “support the case that a purpose-driven life may also be a healthier life.”

Importantly, this doesn’t mean you’re then doomed to illness if you struggle to find meaning.

It may be a cue to spend some time in reflection: What matters to you? What do you want or hope to achieve in life? How do you want to be remembered after you pass?

Reflecting on things like this can help you define your values and identify your purpose.

Likewise, actions of compassion and kindness can spark our sense of meaning as we reach beyond ourselves and our concerns to tend to the needs of others. Maybe this comes through volunteering or charitable giving. Maybe it involves merely spending more time with your family or spiritual group. Maybe it involves being a mentor to young ones or offering support to aging adults.

As others have noted, compassion, love, and sharing are fundamental to developing a sense of purpose.

And even if this were to have no health impact at all, it would still be profound – helping make this a better, kinder, more genuinely connected world.

As for those resolutions? There’s no law saying that you are only allowed to make them at the start of a new year. Setting intentions and taking action toward your preferred future is an anytime thing. You can start right now.


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