Does Finding Purpose Have Health Benefits?

Monday, April 01, 2013

A ship rounds the tip of Cape May, NJ at Sunset Beach. Checking on the shore communities from Cape May to Montauk 3 months after Sandy, this spot received little damage from the storm. coastcheck (Amy Pearl/WNYC)

What if the old "apple-a-day" approach to health is wrong? Normally, we're completely focused on the details of a prescription for a healthy life — an apple a day, eight hours of sleep, 30 minutes of exercise, no cigarettes, no saturated fats, limited sodium, and so on.

But what if you started with the big-picture instead — like, your purpose in life? It sounds a little ambitious, but Vic Strecher, director for innovation and social entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan School Public Health, says that's the kind of approach we should take to see meaningful, healthy behavior change.


Vic Strecher

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Comments [9]

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Mar. 18 2014 03:58 AM
KO from Washington

Fascinating! This really makes me think about why my behavior often doesn't reflect my core values and how I can better align my behavior to my values. I feel so happy when I do and grumpy when I don't. I want to learn more!

Apr. 03 2013 12:02 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

My committed purpose to writing and understanding makes me smile.

Apr. 01 2013 10:51 PM

Thanks, Vic. I like that you brought just enough science into this discussion to validate what we pretty much already know instinctively, yet need to hear often: health, or better, wellness, is more than just the absence of illness or injury—it's the quality of physical and mental condition. I'd write more, but gotta go hug the babies while I'm still around!

Apr. 01 2013 10:19 PM
Monte from Washington DC

Fascinating topic, thanks for airing it! My favorite point was Dr. Strecher's clarification, near the end, that having a clear, heartfelt purpose AT ALL is far more important than what the purpose is. His school custodian example is spot-on -- growing up, I had a bus driver who was so intent on getting us to and from school safe and on time every day that it infused his whole personality. He was no triathlete guy, but he always seemed healthy as an ox, and just as important, happy. I remember him to this day . . . unlike any number of teachers (and professors!) who seemed to spend their time at the blackboard "whiling away the hours between the cradle and the grave."

Apr. 01 2013 03:23 PM

These questions evolved during a month in India where my purpose became clear and my commitment to live it in the US became stronger.

On-Purpose 3 “See Me As” Questions for Friend Support

It isn’t easy “being on purpose.” When friends ask each other these questions, the load is lighter, the high is higher, and our relationship is deeper.

1. When I think of you, how would you like me to picture you living your purpose?
Response - “See me as: _______ e.g. “vital, focused and effective in advancing personal responsibility for health”

2. “When you act on your purpose, what do you do for the world?” e.g. “I shift the focus from a ‘broken sickness care system’ to a ‘sustainable wellness relationship with my care partner.’”

3. "When you live your purpose that way, what does it do for you?” e.g. “I feel like a good ancestor, more alive in service and healthier myself.”

Apr. 01 2013 02:57 PM

I love the idea of this. This program really hit home with me today when I heard it. I have been trying to quit smoking for some time now, using various methods. None of them have helped me succeed & some of these methods have negatively affected other areas of my life. I started experiencing some clear health repercussions from smoking - I could hear crackeling and whisteling with each breath, I had painful coughing, etc. I just recently decided, deep within myself, that it was time. I just made the choice to stop, without any nicotine replacement aids, programs, etc.. I've just adopted the mantra "My kids are more important to me than cigarettes, being happy is more important to me than cigarettes, being healthy is more important to me than cigarettes" and it's working! It's my purpose right now. Whenever I feel a craving or it's a time that I would normally have a cigarette, I just repeat this to myself and I feel peace and confidence that I can do this. I think that with anything like this, there just comes a time when your mind, brain, body & soul are all in the right place at the right time together to make these changes - when it becomes truly important and becomes your purpose. I'm excited with the progress that I've made so far, on my own, and looking forward to trying this with getting myself to excercise and eat healthier.
Also I wanted to say that it was so interesting to me to hear about the actual physical changes that take place when you have a purpose. It made complete sense to me and also made me excited about, between that and the benefits of not smoking, how much healthier my mind and body are going to be!
And I will admit that, while hearing this program and thinking about it, I keep thinking of Steve Martin in "The Jerk" and his 'special purpose'. I'm sure that wasn't intended, but it's fun to think about!
Thank you!!

Apr. 01 2013 02:28 PM
Litzy from Portland, OR

Wow! Vic's words really hit me...made me stop, and think. I appreciated the biological aspects he incorporated in his ideas of living life to the fullest. Living each day as if it is our last, with purpose, contains a whole new meaning, as it would seem to aid in the body's own healing ability.
Thank you for having him on the program! I see a change in my future!

Apr. 01 2013 02:03 PM

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