In our efforts to embrace a fulfilling and rewarding life, each of us hope to find a strong sense of purpose. We each need a reason that touches us deeply for doing the things we do. We not only benefit from a strong sense of purpose in the workplace but also in our personal lives as well. The impact this can have on us is rather profound, at least from our own feelings of self-worth and value. But interestingly, having a sense of purpose in life appears to also be linked to a better memory. At least, that’s what researchers at Florida State University have found based on their recent work.
During the course of the pandemic, researchers at Florida State’s College of Medicine tested hundreds of individuals. Before the pandemic, roughly 800 people were asked about their sense of purpose in life. They also completed a baseline set of cognitive tests that included memory testing. Then, in July, midway through the pandemic, they received another set of tests. This time, they were asked about their memories concerning COVID. Those that had a stronger sense of purpose in the workplace and in life demonstrated enhanced memory abilities. Specifically, their memories were more vivid, accessible, and coherent overall.
What Exactly Defines a Sense of Purpose in Life?
When it comes to a sense of purpose in the workplace or in our personal lives, it can be difficult to define. Naturally, we generally have reasons for most of the behaviors and activities we choose. But having a good reason isn’t necessarily the same as having a good sense of purpose. We may go to work because we need an income and benefits. But that doesn’t mean we find the work fulfilling or personally rewarding. Indeed, having a sense of purpose in life extends well past these basic characteristics. And if we’re going to reap its benefits, we need to be able to recognize it.
A sense of purpose in the workplace or in our personal life can be identified by its core characteristics. A true sense of purpose provides us with a deep sense of fulfillment. The effort we put in and the achievements we accomplish are deeply rewarding. In addition, such activities tend to have a well-defined goal and a tangible link between our efforts and an outcome. They also are usually associated with some target outside us, such as charitable actions. And they make us feel as if we’re realizing a deep sense of personal growth. If these attributes are present, then it’s quite likely that we have a strong sense of purpose in life.
How a Strong Sense of Purpose Improves Wellness
While recent research offers new insights, it’s been previously recognized that a strong sense of purpose in life is beneficial. In fact, evidence links a sense of purpose in the workplace and in our personal lives to better mental and physical health. When we enjoy a sense of purpose, we are more likely to establish meaningful goals. We are also more likely to focus more on the task at hand, which leads to greater success. This could thus improve our commitment to eating healthy or exercising. Or it could improve our ability to view things in a more positive light. In both cases, holistic health improves when we have a purpose behind our efforts.
At the same time, strong personal memories also can help us attain better overall health. We routinely use past memories to control our emotions. When we recall past events and their outcomes, we leverage those events in making better future decisions. These same memories are involved in developing trusting relationships and intimacy. (Dig deeper into the topic of relationships with these Project Bold Life-recommended books!) The more vivid and robust these memories are, the better choices we make. And based on recent findings, a sense of purpose in the workplace and in life can facilitate this. As a result, a sense of purpose in life has beneficial effects on wellness in multiple ways.
How a Sense of Purpose Might Boost Memory
At first glance, it may seem odd that a sense of purpose in life might affect overall memory performance. But in actuality, such a connection isn’t that far-fetched. From one perspective, we tend to be more attentive and focused when we have a sense of purpose. This has certainly been noted with a sense of purpose in the workplace. Employees on a mission are much more likely to be more focused and aware. Thus, it’s not too surprising that they may form more vivid and intense memories during this time. In other words, a strong sense of purpose in life energizes our memory circuits to perform optimally.
From a neuroscience perspective, there are also explanations why a sense of purpose in life might boost memory. The deeper parts of our brains, known as the limbic system, houses both our memories and our emotional responses. Because a sense of purpose is linked to more positive feelings, this could increase limbic system function. In fact, “feel-good” natural brain chemicals like dopamine might even be released when we experience deep fulfillment and reward. Thus, a sense of purpose in the workplace or in our personal lives could certainly improve limbic system memory function.
Quality Versus Quantity of Memories
In the recent research related to sense of purpose, the effect on memory appeared to be a qualitative one. Those with a stronger sense of purpose in life had more vivid memories with greater sensory detail and positive emotions. They also tended to describe their memories from a first-person perspective more often. Therefore, a sense of purpose in the workplace and in life seems to make our memories richer and more meaningful. In turn, this then encourages us to invest more readily in future goals and activities. This is how a powerful sense of purpose enhances our lives and our cognitive abilities. It’s not just about expanding our capacity to remember. It’s actually about improving the quality of our memories and their effect on our choices. From this perspective, it’s easy to appreciate how a sense of purpose can help us achieve the life we desire.
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