Public health educators have done a wonderful job of demonstrating effectiveness of healthy diets, regular physical activity, avoidance of smoking, moderate to no use of alcohol and street drugs, adherence to medical advice etc. All of these measures are most effective if begun early in life and sustained over time, but can offer some benefit even if they are initiated after a serious illness emerges.
Although the beneficial effects of psychological, relationship, and spiritual/ religious processes are not as well recognized, they, too, contribute powerfully to a healthy life by cultivating its meaning.
Meaning is subjective and highly individual. It involves (a) a sense of purpose (b) that the person considers significant and (c) that fits into a broad conception of the context of human existence. It can be anything from an enduring willingness to do everything possible to enhance the lives of one’s loved ones, learn everything that is known about a topic, provide a valuable humanitarian service, see every national park or a ballgame in every major arena, or complete a collection of triangular postage stamps. Colloquially it provides a reason to get out of bed each day put up with life’s many inconveniences.
The benefits of meaning are legion. People who have it are more likely to have:
A higher quality of life
Less cognitive decline
A longer life
Less mental illness including suicidal inclinations
Stronger social connections, and
A longer life!
Meaning comes easy for some people when it is conveyed and supported by the groups to which they belong, e.g. social, spiritual, and/or cultural. Meaning can be strong at one time in individuals’ lives but lost at others. It is always achievable by individuals who are willing to put the effort into creating it. The Personal Statement recommended in Step 2 is an opportunity to reflect on meanings past and present and to reenergize existing ones or create new life-prolonging meanings.