Healthy longevity cannot exist without inner peace and a sense of meaning and purpose. Inner peace is probably best described as being free of stress. We know there are stressful situations throughout life, but our response to these situations is the actual stress we experience, which is destructive to our quality of life and health. Our response is determined by our thoughts and judgments about any situation. These thoughts drive our emotions… anger, sadness, fear, disgust, happiness, or surprise. These emotions, in turn, cause physiologic reactions in our bodies, both positive and negative, which drive our reactions… our behavior.
So, our thoughts and judgments are in the spotlight here. It is critical to be mindful and observe your thoughts without being swept along by them and the emotions they drive. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware without thought or judgment. We experience it when we practice meditation or are present fully with what we are doing, e.g., art, music, faith, nature, pets, crafts, or anything that shuts down our chattering minds. This is peace.
Fulfillment is having a sense of meaning and purpose. Poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” We absolutely require meaning and purpose for resilience as well as for a healthy longevity. You can imagine how difficult it must be to bounce back from one of life’s curve balls without a reason to do it. A reason to get out of bed in the morning gets us moving, using our brains, and connecting. Meaning and purpose are fundamental to an engaged life…one of growth, resilience, and healthy longevity.
Because most of us had a large dose of purpose with education, career, and family, we often come up empty-handed when we get older and have accomplished most of what was our purpose. We always had it in our lives. It got us through the day; it got us through our lives. The need for purpose doesn’t go away when we get older or when we decide to retire or change how we spend our days. It does change, however, evolving with our lives and values. So, when we get to an older age or when things change, we must ask, what excites me? What is it that perhaps I always wanted to do and wasn’t able? What would give me a sense of meaning in my life?
This is a very personal thing and need not be grandiose. Small or grand, it is the spark that ignites the potential within us, which may have been hidden or buried during a life of doing what needed to be done. Purpose keeps us healthy. It is one of the strongest predictors for our healthy longevity, precisely because it is the Miracle Grow for our potential, peace, and fulfillment.