Adelaide Is Thinking On Purpose
19 December 2017 at 8:26 am
Finding your purpose in life leads to better health and overall happiness, according to award-winning behavioural scientist Dr Vic Strecher who has been visiting Adelaide from the US as part of the Don Dunstan Foundation Thinkers in Residence Program.
Strecher is the director of innovation and social entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and the founder and President of JOOL Health, a digital health solution company that integrates the science of “purpose” in life to improve general well-being among users.
Don Dunstan Foundation executive director David Pearson said the 18-month Thinkers in Residence program, which is focusing on growing jobs in the purpose economy, was an “exciting opportunity” to welcome Strecher to South Australia.
“Dr Strecher’s sold out public events in Adelaide demonstrate a growing interest in the relationship between purpose, health and work,” Pearson said.
“These things are all linked and can be improved by having a greater sense of purpose in everything we do.”
Strecher’s most recent book, Life On Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything, examines the science and philosophy of the purpose in life and ways to develop and align with one’s purpose.
Strecher said he was keen to share his experience of supporting both the not-for-profit and for profit sectors, working with governments and engaging with corporates to highlight how finding your purpose in life leads to better health and overall happiness.
“Studies have shown that having purpose reduces risk of heart attack and stroke, cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than half, helps you relax during the day and sleep better at night, diminishes your inflammatory cells, increases your good cholesterol, and repairs your chromosomes,” Strecher told Pro Bono News.
“People who have a strong purpose or are developing a strong purpose, seem to be better able even to repair their DNA and improve what are called their telomeres, which are the ends of our chromosomes, very much like the plastic caps at the end of our shoelaces.
“This is basically over and above any effect that might be caused by age or race or gender, income, education, health status or health behaviour. Purpose in life seems to shine right through those things and produce a very, very strong effect.”
Strecher said people responded very emotionally and deeply to the idea of purpose.
“Very often after I speak they might go, ‘I’m wondering about my purpose in life, I don’t know if I have a strong purpose right now, I don’t know what the next chapter of my life should be’, and that is a very emotional thing to be thinking about,” he said.
“So I already know I have touched a nerve when I talk about something, but a very positive nerve, because then the next step is to ask, well how do I find a purpose, what is my purpose in my life, and now, that is something that is really interesting to help a person find.
“People change their purposes as many times as they have different major life events, getting married, having children, getting a new job, getting sick, maybe losing a loved one, retirement, all of those times, require repurposing your life, rethinking your life a bit and saying well what is the next chapter for my life and that results in people really starting to think about their lives as opposed to just living on automatic.”
He said how people can find their purpose was something he was working on in Adelaide, both with the Dunstan Foundation and SAHMRI, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.
“Part of finding a strong purpose is first identifying what matters most in your life,” Strecher said.
“So the things that matter most are my family, the thing that matters most is my work, and then set a goal around those things. For example, I’m a professor at the University of Michigan, I really care a lot about my students and about teaching, so my purpose at work is to teach everyone of my students as if they’re my own child, so that is a goal that I have set around something I deeply care about, that deeply matters to me.
“Then, once you help a person establish a purpose, of course it is important to align with that purpose every day if possible, so we help people find more energy, more self control or will power, in order to really be directed towards the purpose that they have every day, so that is something I am working on a great deal with people in Adelaide.”
He said the idea of purpose could be translated into the economy.
“So an economy basically means transaction and we usually refer to an economy as a transaction of money, but if you think about a purpose economy as a transaction between businesses, for profits, not for profits, between those entities in the community, with those entities in the government and there is a transaction of purpose. Thinking about what is the purpose of this city, what is the purpose of my company, what is the purpose of me as an individual or us as a family and how do those things interact and connect with one another and that is what we might call a purpose economy,” he said.
“It is something that is really interacting between all of these units, these entities, which are all a vibrant part of Adelaide.”
He said it was very important to think of self-transcending purposes or “things that are bigger than yourself”.
“I might have a purpose to have a better car or whatever it is, more toys basically, more pleasure and that’s fine but our research, and other people’s research, has shown pretty clearly that having that sort of self-enhancing purpose does not do anything for you, and in fact it might actually be harmful, whereas a self-transcending purpose, giving to others, actually helps you more,” Strecher said.
“Purposeful businesses that can transcend their own revenue, end up making more revenue, so it is really an interesting idea, almost an interesting irony that the more you think about others, the better off you do yourself.”
He said when people were working together toward a collective purpose they were happier.
“People may want to think about their families and the purpose their families may have that’s bigger than itself, people may want to think about their community purpose that’s bigger than itself, certainly people who are in work environments, may want to think about their employer mission, how they’re connected or maybe not connected with that mission,” he said.
“I think when people are starting to work together toward a collective purpose, people get much happier, that has been shown quite clearly, they are happier, they are less depressed and being connected like that gives people a tremendous well being.”
Strecher said one of the things that attracted him to Adelaide was its purposeful nature.
“The purpose economy that seems to be driving Adelaide, their attention to things like ageing well, to adolescents who are in trouble perhaps, and how to help those adolescents, how to develop more purposeful business, how to build a greater balance and connection between the community and between the business and corporate sector, all of those things are very attractive to me and it seems like one of the most liveable cities I can imagine, and I have been here for just two and a half weeks, but already we are just in love with this city,” he said.
“The SAHMRI group, and in particular the wellbeing and resilience centre, along with the Don Dunstan Foundation have both been exemplars.
“When I look at the wellbeing and resilience centre there is no other centre like that in the world, and they are very interested in the idea of helping people develop purpose with scale, how to democratise purpose in our society and the Don Dunstan Foundation is very interested in this purpose economy. Both have been amazing groups of people to work with, they both have very self transcending missions and purposes themselves and I’m learning a great deal. I feel like I am learning more than I am giving.”