Linking Purpose, Health & Meditation

Jul 12, 2016

There has been an incredible amount of research on the power of habits and what keeps habits glued in place. Science has proven that neural pathways in the brain are formed and strengthened when we practice something over and over again, becoming habits. These ‘habit pathways’ have powerful control on our daily interactions, activities, behaviors and reactions. Whether it’s angry reactions, impatience, jealousy, a negative mind, eating – or not eating – certain foods at certain times, emotional eating, not exercising, smoking – okay, you get it – whatever the emotional, physical, or cognitive habits that we have developed are wired in our brain to become a packaged response.

 

Strecher defines life purpose as a combination of living according to one’s values and goals, and striving to make a positive difference in the world. According to Strecher, the strength of one’s life purpose–spiritual well-being–is measurable and correlates with one’s sense of overall well-being, including physical health and longevity. Although it is not clear exactly how purpose influences well-being, his research found that increasing a sense of purpose decreases the risk of heart attack 27% and the risk of stroke 22%.

One theory accounting for how purpose benefits health holds that it reduces stress; those who report living a purposeful life also report lower perceptions of stress. In this regard, purpose, health and meditation interconnect. One link is the well-documented influence of meditation upon stress reduction. Meditation does not necessarily decrease life’s daily stressors, but it does decrease how we perceive them. This decreased perception of stress, however, is not the only health benefit. The second link is that meditation actually inspires a sense of life purpose. Purpose and meaning support well-being, health practices and overall health.

 

A third link between health and meditation is physical: meditation actually lengthens telomeres, the caps on the ends of chromosomes which protect our genetic data, enable cell division and retain information regarding aging and cancer risks. Age, increased stress and some lifestyle choices shorten these telomeres. Studies (as we wrote in an earlier news tip) found that practicing mindful meditation increases telomere length and thus benefits overall health.

What does this have to do with your organization? Consider possible wellness initiatives that encourage reflection upon meaning and purpose at both the personal and the professional levels. This requires explicitly demonstrating how each employee’s role within the larger business advances the company’s mission, actively communicating this meaning and purpose, and intentionally considering how organizational factors impact workers’ health.

It means broadening the definition and focus of worksite wellness to address how all of these dimensions interconnect within the context of the organization. This approach helps to break down communication silos since forming partnerships among leadership and managers, safety and wellness officers, and HR personnel is necessary to develop these initiatives effectively.

Here are a few practical steps an organization can take:

  • Move beyond physical health factors to other factors influencing wellness not only to broaden the focus but also to enrich the beneficial outcomes of wellness.
  • Offer mindful meditation initiatives as part of your worksite wellness–and leadership–programs.
  • Communicate the meaning and purpose of work performed, how it contributes to a greater purpose and how each employee advances the organization’s larger mission.
  • Include initiatives promoting individual employees’ personal missions and purposes in the context of the organization’s overall mission as part of the wellness program.
  • Assess how organizational factors may increase employee stress–as well as how those factors might affect employees’ well-being.

Strecher argues, and we agree, that businesses putting purpose at the forefront tend to be more enjoyable places to work and more financially successful in the long run than those pursuing only profit.

Of course, paying mere lip service to having purpose and to being a value-driven organization will not make it so. Organizations must commit to constant, consistent efforts. There is a difference between individuals discovering their purpose and actually having the motivation, time and support to act upon it. Wellness initiatives can assist employees with realizing and utilizing purpose, and they can assist leaders in developing factors that will lead to organizational well-being.