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Living Health Week: Spring 2023

Living Health Week, put on by Emory's Center for the Study of Human Health, takes place every semester. It’s a week where we encourage students to celebrate their progress in all aspects of health, and a time to appreciate those that help us maintain that health.

Living a Life of Purpose

Having a sense of purpose in life is positively correlated with physical and mental health benefits. This Living Health Week, join Emory University Purpose Professor Dr. Christine Whelan on a journey to create your personalized purpose statement. This can be a daily purpose statement or a purpose statement for the semester, the year, or even your college career. What matters is that you are embracing a purpose mindset for your health.

When you have a clear sense of what matters most, why it matters, and how to make it happen in life, research shows you’re more likely to sleep well and more likely to take care of yourself. For young adults in particular, a sense of purpose in life is positively correlated with improved mental health, better academic outcomes, increased resilience, improved relationships, and better decision-making.

Step 1: Values

Values guide all of our decisions. Taking the time to clearly state what matters most to us is an important first step on the path to purpose. To help you clarify your health, social, and academic values, examples from Shalom Schwartz’s Universal Values research may be useful.

Pick three values you want to guide you for this purpose statement exercise. Pick a value for your educational life, your physical health, and your social life, for example. Considering some values specifically focused on your health can serve as a motivation to make positive changes, seek help when needed, and prioritize self-care, each of which can increase the likelihood of being physically and mentally healthy.

Studies on purpose and health abound. For an accessible overview of the health benefits of purpose, see epidemiologist Dr. Vic Strecher’s book, “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything,” which includes many citations and descriptions of the best studies to date.

Step 2: Strengths

You have superpowers!

We all have strengths. Your strengths are gifts to use on purpose, and research finds that when we use our strengths, we build a sense of agency which leads to more energy and a drive to accomplish what matters most to us. Part of embracing a purpose mindset is to identify our skills and check that we're using them in keeping with our values to benefit ourselves and the lives of others.

Owning your true strengths is good for your mental health: When we focus on our strengths, we feel more positive about our experiences and those positive emotions can contribute to a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This builds resilience. When you have a sense of what you’re good at, it allows you to cope with challenges and stress in a more effective way. 

Today, pick three strengths you'd like to use…on purpose. Embrace those superpowers for a healthier future!

Step 3: Impact Groups

Embracing a purpose mindset allows you to think big - think about people and causes, and ideas that transcend you personally. This prosocial thinking not only benefits others but is good for our own health and emotional well-being. Increasing feelings of self-esteem and self-worth while improving social connections and relationships, prosocial behavior is associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Think about purposeful prosocial behavior and pick three groups you would like to have a positive impact on. Consider how you want to transcend yourself, using your gifts in keeping with your values, to positively impact the health and well-being of the world around you.

Step 4: Anxieties

A major issue for many college students right now is “Toxic Perfectionism” – holding one’s self to unreasonable standards while fearing failure. Taking a proactive approach to health, or prioritizing your values for personal wellness, may be asking you to consider a change, provoking that voice in our heads that is full of “yeah-buts,” criticisms, and excuses, adding to the anxiety.

Rather than trying to avoid and outrun fears and anxieties, today we’re inviting you to name them. Rather than letting them stop you in your tracks, challenge them with positive self-talk and use them as teachers on this path to purpose. Prosocial living and finding a purpose that focuses on progress for something bigger than ourselves can be an antidote to our fears and anxieties. Living purposefully and proactively empowers us to take small steps toward what matters most to us.

We invite you to take a deep breath and pick three fears and anxieties most likely to trip you up along the way to your purposeful living vision and add them to your purpose statement.

Step 5: Commitments

Turn your purpose into action with purpose-based commitments: statements of specific and measurable goals that are in keeping with your values, and turn an idea for “something I might do someday, later, maybe” into action steps that put your health and well-being goals front and center in your life.

Ask yourself how you can use your gifts in keeping with your values to positively impact the groups and people you care most about and pick three purpose-based commitments – three goals that are in keeping with your purpose mindset. Choose goals that are important to you and that you care about enough to work on the behavior change necessary to accomplish them.

You might consider sharing your purpose statement with your friends, your loved ones, your mentor or your counselor. Post it somewhere you can see each day.

Here’s to a life of health, happiness, and purpose ahead!

The Purpose Statement Exercise is shared with Emory University for academic use with permission from Christine B. Whelan, LLC

© 2023 Christine B. Whelan, LLC