I’ve talked before about the importance of struggle and healthy stress in our lives. It grows our character, strengthens our minds and bodies, and humbles us.
But something was lacking: what sort of things give us healthy stress in our lives? Here, I want to briefly explore why purpose is one good example of a healthy stress-inducer.
Pressure and Purpose
You might not first think of it this way, but purpose naturally puts pressure on us. It directs and guides us. It moves or draws us towards its ends, requires results, and motivates us with rewards (among other things). It keeps us from things that are undesired, destructive, or just a waste of time. It is a healthy stress if it is a good and correct purpose and one that drives us forward in important areas of life: overall health, good relationships, moral goodness, societal contribution, etc.
Think of school work. Perhaps your purpose is to learn and get good grades (though you may have a different one). That purpose motivates you to actually do your homework and work relatively hard at it. It stops you from wasting time on too much video games (hopefully) and is probably going to keep you from abusing drugs or alcohol which would get in the way of success.
I think of the people who did not adopt such a healthy stress in high school. They wasted time out in the forest smoking and playing hooky. Many of them didn’t really go anywhere. I know there are complicated reasons that someone might choose that lifestyle, and I’m not trying to be inconsiderate. I also think that any life can be turned around! That said, when people shirk healthy purpose, they leave behind overall health and success with it. The good stress of purpose will stop you from going down such roads.
Perspectives and Purpose
Coming from a Christian perspective has helped me in many ways. One of those has been by giving me an all-informing and all-encompassing sense of purpose. I know that my life is to be lived for the good of others and the glory of God. I live to tell others about the purpose that Jesus taught and the understanding that he gave. He takes care of my failures so that they don’t weigh me down or guilt me like most religion does. He promised a hope for a new earth in a future life, but also one that continues from this one. Thus, “what we do in this life echoes into eternity” as Maximus says in Gladiator. This completely changes how one lives.
I know not all of you reading this will come from or even be interested in a Christian perspective. That’s fine, although I do think that theists have an advantage here since I can’t see a good reason for having purpose that you just make up or that comes from something from this world only.
That said, I do think anyone can (and must) take advantage of the idea of purpose and the healthy stress that it puts on you. Consider thinking of purposes or “mission statements” for the different areas of your life. For example, you may have this mission statement for your family responsibilities: “I will prioritize my family relationships above all others, doing my best to help each member flourish, putting their needs above my own.” When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this kind of statement will be a stressful one to carry out! But it’s a great one, and if you really believe it it will push you towards healthy living, and in one of the most important social institutions at that.
So wherever you’re coming from, and whatever place of “health” you’re at in your life, consider the benefits of purpose and the stress that comes from it. Remember that even though stress might seem particularly hard at first, you’ll need to build up strength to do it – but you’ll be better off for it.
Finally, be challenged: do you have purpose in your life? Are you giving yourself to meaningless or secondary things? Perhaps you need to do some soul-searching.
I hope you find strength in it all,
P.S. A Book That Talks About Purpose:
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey