Happiness is good, right? Researchers led by Steven Cole at the University of California at Los Angeles made a stunning discovery last year. They studied the gene expression profiles of people who experienced happiness from seeking pleasure and those who experienced happiness from seeking meaningful purpose in life. While both pleasure and purpose seekers reported experiencing happiness at a conscious level, the gene expression profiles of the two groups told a different story.
The profiles of the purpose seekers exhibited low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong levels of antiviral and antibody genes. The pleasure seekers showed the opposite. Their profiles were consistent with people who are more likely to experience adverse health and premature death.
This new research is relevant to how we live our lives. People who seek purpose in their lives feel they make a difference. They experience greater energy and enthusiasm. They are more likely to give their best efforts and persevere through the inevitable challenges and difficult seasons in life that everyone experiences. It would make sense that they live longer, which is what this new genetic research suggests.
What if you are not presently experiencing much meaning in your life? Here are a few actions you can take to enjoy the benefits of living a life of purpose as it relates to the time you spend at work.
1. Serve a cause greater than yourself
Work is typically meaningful when it brings beauty, goodness and/or truth to the world. Beauty can be found in the technology product designer’s work that exhibits aesthetic beauty and/or functional excellence or the administrative assistant’s work that organizes important information so it is easily accessible. Goodness can be found in the nurse’s work that reduces suffering and promotes healing, or the engineer’s work that promotes safety and environmental responsibility. Truth can be found in the teacher’s work that promotes students’ acquisition of knowledge or the researcher’s work that discovers whether a hypothesis is true or false.
2. Connect with the beneficiaries of your work
People who work on the front lines generally see how their work helps others. Those who work behind the scenes should find ways to interact with customers to raise their awareness of the value of their work. Leaders are wise to facilitate employee contact with grateful customers, whether people come in and share their stories in-person or through writing or video.
3. Find meaning in relationships
If it’s difficult to find meaning in terms of the benefit your work brings to others, consider focusing on meaning from relationships. Dorothy, an energetic, joyful 80-year old, loves working in retail. Although she doesn’t need the money and she’s not particularly inspired by the work her company does, she enjoys interacting with her colleagues and customers. Her friendliness, smile and warmth make a difference in their lives. In a short amount of time, she developed strong relationships with regular customers and you can see it on their faces when they step in the door. Good relationships are a source of meaning in Dorothy’s life and her health and lifespan will benefit from it.
If you could use more meaning and purpose in your life, serve a cause great than yourself, connect with the beneficiaries of your work and find meaning in relationships. Your physical health will be the better for it.
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of “Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity” (Thomas Nelson). Follow Stallard on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or on LinkedIn.