The importance of finding a purpose and fulfillment when living with a disability
We all have the same basic needs: Water, food, shelter and clothing. More modern definitions also include the need for sanitation, education, and healthcare. However, having these basic needs met only ensures our existence; it doesn’t necessarily ensure a happy and fulfilling life, which begs the question, ‘What does it take to attain happiness and fulfillment?’.
Even then, this one question prompts a raft of others – do ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment’ look the same for everyone, and does everyone require the same things in order to attain that happiness and sense of fulfillment? Can we all even achieve the things we need to in order to find happiness and fulfillment, on our own?
In this article we will attempt to answer these questions, and more, and we will discuss the importance played by finding a purpose in life in achieving happiness and a sense of personal fulfilment – especially to individuals living with disability.
What is a purposeful life?
A purposeful life is one in which you live according to your values and morals, drawing on your strengths and skills to follow your passion and work towards the achievement of a large personal goal. Living a purposeful life enables us to find a sense of meaning, and it is what brings us happiness and fulfillment.
While psychologists suggest that happiness is closely tied to ‘living a good life’, which entails finding meaning and living with a sense of purpose, some psychologists believe it is more than this and suggest it isn’t necessarily the achievement of happiness that improves wellbeing, but rather the pursuit of it.
This is true for everyone at any stage of every life. We all feel a sense of pride and satisfaction when we live according to our own beliefs, following our heart and staying true to ourselves, living in the moment, expressing gratitude and appreciation for what we have, and encouraging others to do the same.
How can happiness and fulfillment be achieved?
Although everyone is different, holding a different world view that is based on personal experience of the world and society, experts agree that the ingredients for a happy life apply to everyone:
- Working towards your goals or mastering a desired skill or skillset
- Maintaining close social ties
- Cultivating authentic relationships (Being true to your ‘self’ and living according to your values and morals
- Finding a purpose beyond yourself and your own needs.
However, our differences mean that our individual pursuit of happiness, meaning and purpose, needs to be based on identifying those things that bring our mind, body, and soul into alignment and increase our happiness. As such, each of us will require something different to help us achieve happiness and fulfillment – for example, it may mean:
- Learning how to open ourselves up to others and more effectively and confidently express our feelings, wants, and needs, so that we are better able to have those needs and desires fulfilled. This may require us to learn to be more positive and optimistic, and to appreciate the good things that happen in our lives (even the small ones).
- Finding a hobby or a passion and making the time to really pursue that passion or interest.
- Embracing spirituality and faith or attending religious services with a likeminded community.
- Spending time with other people who are also happy – have you ever heard the sayings “happiness is contagious” or “a smile is contagious”? It’s true!
That said, our unique life experiences will often exert a big influence on where we choose to focus our attention at any one time in our lives, and it’s important to periodically revise the metaphorical list of things that contribute to our happiness so that we can continue to experience that sense of personal fulfillment throughout our lives.
Why is it important to find a sense of meaning and purpose?
The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science has conducted a raft of studies, to help us to better understand how developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life can help humans to flourish.
This research has noted that there are important distinctions between pondering the age-old question of “the meaning of life”, gaining a personal understanding of the things that give our own lives meaning, and finding an individual sense of motivational purpose that directs us toward setting particular goals or engaging in a pursuit that we deem to be of consequence.
What are the benefits of finding meaning and having a sense of purpose?
Finding a personal sense of purpose can have an incredibly positive effect on our happiness, self-esteem and, ultimately, our sense of achievement and fulfillment – all of which are hugely beneficial to both our physical and mental health.
Recent research involving people over the age of 50 suggests there are considerable benefits associated with finding a sense of meaning and purpose, in terms of improving both longevity and quality of life.
A long-term study of a group of young people also showed that having a personal sense of meaning and purpose had a significant impact across all areas of life. Where individuals had sought and found a mission or purpose earlier in life, researchers identified improvements in the individuals’:
- Physical health – evidenced by a greater tendency towards using preventative health care measures.
- Mental health – evidenced by a greater tendency toward a positive mental affect and, potentially, fewer depressive symptoms.
- Psychological well-being – evidenced by higher levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem, and better emotional processing and expression.
- Character – evidenced by a tendency to practice gratitude and mindfulness, and to engage in more volunteering and selfless acts or activities.
How to live a more meaningful and purposeful life
There are several factors that have been shown to lead to a greater sense of purpose, with one of the most powerful acts being volunteering, and this appears to be true across the entire lifespan – from adolescence through middle-age and into older adulthood. While volunteering is an admirable pursuit, it’s not necessarily an absolute way for each of us to create a meaningful and purposeful life.
For some people, volunteering may not be a viable option. Certainly, for people living with a disability, finding paid employment in an inclusive and supportive environment may be one of the most important motivating factors, where they feel they are actively contributing to society, can set goals and develop a sense of achievement, and can improve their social skills by learning to confidently interact with peers and the wider community.
Other ways in which we can live a more meaningful and purposeful life include:
Work to consciously develop positive emotions and emotional skills, such as gratitude and empathy, so you are better able to recognise the positive aspects of your own life and are more inclined to want to help others to reach that same state of positivity. These positive emotions can help you to shift your focus beyond yourself, to care about others and help meet their needs and improve their wellbeing, which in turn helps you to find meaning and purpose in your own life and improve your own wellbeing.
Recognise the things you care about, your interests and the areas in which you excel, and using those values and skills to stay active in the community and make a positive contribution to society. Through identifying and developing those skills and strengths, and making that positive contribution to your community, you can gain a sense of pride and accomplishment that drives you to share your skills and strengths and use them to empower others.
Beliefs and values
Align your beliefs and values with your actions, such that you are being true to yourself and doing things that feel right to you. Embrace your personal beliefs and values and trust your intuition to guide you on the right path, without worrying about the judgement or arbitrary rules of others (except for the law, of course.) In this way you can be certain that you are living your life in the way that is best for you.
ConnectAbility can help you or your loved one pursue your goals and move towards living a purposeful life
If you or your loved one are living with a disability and need assistance to develop essential life skills that will build independence and confidence, look no further. From teaching personal care skills, and numeracy, literacy and financial management skills, to helping you to learn how to travel and access transport independently, and providing assistance to access and participate in the community, ConnectAbility Australia is here to help.
If you would like more information on how ConnectAbility Australia can help you or your loved one living with a disability to build their skills so that they can achieve their goals and live their best life, please call us on 02 4962 1000 (Newcastle) or 02 4349 3700 (Central Coast). Alternatively, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to complete our contact form to have a ConnectAbility representative contact you back as soon as possible.