Sense of Purpose and Longevity

I’m a big fan of informational videos on YouTube, and this is one that I found particularly interesting because I see a connection in it to religion and atheism. Check it out at the link here:

The video discusses an analysis of multiple studies that found that a sense of purpose “reduces the risk of death from all causes by 23%” and additionally, “reduces the risk of heart attack by 19%.”

What connects this video to religion or a lack thereof is the way in which the researchers defined the phrase sense of purpose, calling it “A self-reported sense of meaning, direction, and a feeling that life is worth living.”

It reminded me of a dinner I was at a year or so ago, when some conservative friends of my parents began discussing one of my neighbors:  a boy around my brother’s age, who does drugs, drinks heavily, and seems when one converses with him to have very little hope for his future.

As the video points out, for some, a sense of purpose is derived from religion. Thinking along those lines, one of my parents’ friends immediately said of my neighbor, “That boy needs God in his life, and it’s a lack of God that’s causing him to be so troubled.” Nearly everyone at the table agreed, but I, who was already considering atheism, said “Not necessarily. Maybe God will be what works for him, but he just needs some sense of purpose. That can come from a lot of things.” If he could find something he was passionate about–a goal worth pursuing, for example–that might be enough for him. Just because religion is all the purpose some people need, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.

That’s why I appreciate this video so much. They talk about other things that can lead to a sense of purpose, three of which apply to me:  wanting a successful career, a family of your own, and to do something creative. Those are all valid reasons for living. Wanting to worship a God is not the only valid one. In fact, I personally see something more positive in the more personal goals because they do not come from an external source, like a religious community. Instead, they come from the individual.

The devout Catholic culture I grew up in valued a strong sense of purpose mainly when it was derived from faith and devotion to God. That’s probably why on religious retreats, I would frequently see people like The Addict (mentioned in a previous post) that claim to have found Jesus to be the solution to their addiction. They often don’t even mean what they’re saying (or think they do in the moment but aren’t willing to put in the work to actually quit,) and fall right back into using after the retreat euphoria wears off. What they’re doing in that moment, when they stand up and testify about Jesus, is using the crowd’s pro-Jesus mentality to gain acceptance from the group. It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside because a community is welcoming and loving you, but without a sense of purpose driving you to change, it is likely not going to help you much.

It’s good to know that having a sense of purpose–including a nonreligious one–can help increase the odds of living longer. It makes me hopeful for humanity. The world is a pretty big place and there’s a lot to learn and do and see. There is a plethora of possible purposes out there.

What do you think? Do you feel like you have a sense of purpose? Is it religious or nonreligious? As usual, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

And purpose finding!

-Nancy

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8 thoughts on “Sense of Purpose and Longevity

  1. “”Not necessarily. Maybe God will be what works for him, but he just needs some sense of purpose. That can come from a lot of things.” If he could find something he was passionate about–a goal worth pursuing, for example–that might be enough for him. Just because religion is all the purpose some people need, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.”

    Awesome for you to be so bold in a group of hard-core catholics, especially at your young age (well, I know you’re not THAT young, but you’re young compared to my 41 years). Did anyone choke or drop their fork? At my house, saying something like that would have got your face slapped right off your head….it’d still be worth saying. 🙂

    Like

  2. As for your question about the purpose of life in general and my life in particular (since becoming an atheist): I don’t believe there is any. I realize that’s a controversial thing to say. Perhaps I could say the overall purpose of my life is to simply “be” and experience it, and leave behind what goodness I can. That’s enough for me, but I understand other people need to ascribe more to it to make life bearable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s reasonable. Existence itself is pretty cool, and wanting to leave behind good things is definitely a positive purpose. I like having goals and dreams, and that’s what I’d identify as my own purpose, but I wonder how much of that’s age related, and how one’s experiences over time shape purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first deconverted, I felt purposeless. Then I saw a distinction between eternal things and temporary things, and that I had always found temporary things to be meaningful. Also, some of my actions will indeed outlive me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point. I especially like what you said about temporary things being meaningful. It reminds me of a poem actually, by Wallace Stevens, called “Sunday Morning,” which asks “Is there no change of death in paradise? Does ripe fruit never fall?” It goes on to point out that “death is the mother of beauty,” explaining that sometimes, as you said, the temporary things on earth are the most beautiful and wonderful. Fruit and flowers, for example, which humans certainly enjoy, exist because life is temporary, and living things–plants included–have to reproduce. Would they even exist in paradise, and if they did, would they exist constantly, never falling to the ground and rotting as they do here because there they would serve no purpose, the poem asks. Would they be as beautiful then, if they always existed in their perfect state? I’m going all English nerd on you, but the point is, it’s a very interesting train of thought. I think there’s merit to it, and an old poet guy agrees.

      Liked by 1 person

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