How Purpose and Well-Being Connect

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman suggests that connecting with purpose may be the best resolution we can make this year.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now.

Each January, roughly one in three Americans make a resolution to improve themselves in some way. We're just finished March, and research suggests that by June less than half of these people are still on target to achieve their goal.

A large percentage of these goals—well over half—are related to wellness or wellbeing. Things like “run more” or “take time off” or “sleep better.” But are these the only places we should be putting our energy? Or is there more to wellbeing we might be missing?

Richard Davidson is a neuroscientist and the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin. A long-time friend and colleague, I recently interviewed him for my podcast. Based on years of scientific research, he and his colleagues have introduced a framework for wellbeing that transcends what we have traditionally considered “good for us.”

In his model, wellbeing has four pillars:

●     Awareness: Our attentiveness to our environment, bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings—the degree to which we notice (or not) the details of our own experience.

●     Connection: How related we are to others and the world around us— the degree to which we practice appreciation, kindness and compassion.

●     Insight: How much and how often we cultivate curiosity and self-knowledge.

●     Purpose: The degree to which we understand our values and motivations, using them as a North Star by which we guide our decisions.

Each of these pillars zeroes in on specific skills that can be learned and strengthened over time; they have been studied in the lab and shown to improve with training. Dr. Davidson argues that if we are to find a sense of happiness and wellbeing in our lives, we need to cultivate each of them in equal measure. They are not separate. Instead, they build upon one another.

Last July, the Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll reported that more than half of US adults reported a decline in their mental health due to their worry and stress over the pandemic—up from the 32% reported in March of 2020.

Given how stressful the past 12 months have been, this framework offers us something concrete to consider as we search for an antidote to our own malaise.

The framework considers that there’s a difference between the kind of happiness that depends on what happens to us in a day, and a sense of wellbeing that comes from within.

The first kind of happiness can easily take a dive whenever there’s adversity, such as in this time of lockdown and recession where bad things continue to happen. But the second—the kind Davidson is getting at—offers a sort of inoculation against these ups and downs. A Tibetan friend calls it being “happy for no reason.”

In a recent Korn Ferry article on healthy habits to cultivate while working at home, Nancy Von Horn, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance, comments that in this time, “People need ways to find order amid the chaos.” She suggests scheduling a daily run, getting consistent sleep, or scheduling a long uninterrupted dinner with family.

These suggestions are good ones that point back to elements of Davidson’s framework, including awareness and connection.

But it’s purpose—the fourth pillar—that I’m really interested in here.

What kind of reflections are we making around purpose? Can we find a sense of meaning larger than our own self-interest?

Maybe this year will give us a new take on how we bolster our wellbeing. And perhaps connecting with a sense of purpose might be the best resolution we can make.

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.