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How Purpose Can Be Your Protector

Almost a year after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, many of us are still experiencing stress and uncertainty. The idea of what purpose means during this stressful time was explained in a well-attended, virtual lecture on Friday, February 19th, by Dr. Anthony Burrow, Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University.

Studying purpose, he argues, has revealed “both ancient and nascent ideas”.

Purpose is associated with greater levels of happiness, personal growth, and learning engagement. Research has even shown that purpose has physical health benefits as well—including lower risk of stroke, lower risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, and even better sleep. Dr. Burrow work also demonstrated that individuals with a sense of purpose are less likely to feel uncomfortable with different outgroups and their self-esteem is less likely to be affected social media engagement. A sense of purpose he argues, gives people a sense of “stability”. In essence, it serves as compass that directs their life, and protects them from life’s up and downs.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the purpose is, just having a sense of purpose appears to be an asset for those who possess it. One question from the audience was how we can cultivate purpose in our day-to-day lives. Dr. Burrow answered that the idea of “finding purpose” does not have a lot of evidence correlated with it; rather, it is cultivation of purpose that tends to be more achievable. Dr. Burrow continued by explaining that there are three main pathways towards purpose: proactive (building purpose through gradual engagement), reactive (building purpose as a result of a positive/negative experience), and social learning (building purpose through observing other purposeful individuals).

Attendees learned a tremendous amount from Dr. Burrow on this important and timely issue, and were thankful for this opportunity. This event was co-sponsored by the Empower Center and the Berger Institute. Follow @bergerinstitute on Facebook and Instagram for future updates on events!