By Paul Irving
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org . It is part of The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need To Know Special Report
This is a dark age for many of us. The coronavirus pandemic has put global populations at risk, stripped millions of people from jobs and savings and isolated us in ways many have never experienced. For those of us of who are older, the danger is elevated. But the lessons of history offer perspective.
Humanity survived and thrived in the wake of earlier pandemics. The pain inflicted by invisible enemies like the Black Death, smallpox, and the Spanish flu was devastating, but the world recovered.
We have survived even worse — our own inhumanity. That’s why this is a time to turn again to the work of Viktor Frankl and his powerful book, “ Man’s Search for Meaning .”
Frankl was the prominent Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who wrote of his personal experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He observed that prisoners who found purpose in the face of unimaginable conditions were far more resilient and likely to survive than those who did not.
What purpose can do for us
Frankl’s words, “life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose” are a call to action today. Finding purpose, a fundamental requirement for human health and well-being, will not cure the coronavirus, but may well mitigate its effects and enable a more rapid recovery.
In this moment, as we face physical isolation, financial loss and threatened health, finding purpose may actually save lives.
Researchers agree that purpose in life increases overall well-being, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency and self-esteem and decreases the chances of depression. A strong sense of purpose is associated with slower development of age-related disabilities, reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, improved cognitive health and longer lives. Finding purpose can promote energy, satisfaction and protective preventive health behaviors.
As Dr. Philip Pizzo of Stanford University, another Next Avenue Influencer in Aging , wrote in a recent piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association, “having a purpose, seeking social engagement, and fostering wellness through positive lifestyle choices are important in reducing morbidity and mortality and improving the life journey.”
While each of us sees purpose through our own lens, there is common ground. Some suggest that purpose is found at the intersection of our talents and skills and a need in the world. Others say it is the thing that drives us and keeps us going when things get tough.
Certainly, contributing to and caring for others is a shared instinct and aspiration. Social connection, engagement and sense of community are also key parts of the formula. Importantly, a loss of purpose can be a symptom of isolation.
That is a risk we all face today. So, if isolation is the enemy, how can we preserve and elevate our sense of purpose during a period of social distancing?
7 ways to find purpose in the pandemic
Here are seven ideas: