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Why a Sense of Purpose Leads to Happiness, and What it Means for Counsellor Training

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While it might sound counterintuitive, it has been suggested that making happiness itself a goal could actually have a detrimental effect on individual wellbeing. This was the finding of a paper entitled Can Seeking Happiness Make People Happy? Paradoxical Effects of Valuing Happiness. Therein, a review of multiple studies led researchers to claim that “People who highly value happiness set happiness standards that are difficult to obtain, leading them to feel disappointed about how they feel, paradoxically decreasing their happiness the more they want it” (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino, 2011).

Instead, research suggests that a better approach may be to achieve a sense of purpose. Findings published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that striving for purpose and meaning instead of self-focused happiness leads to a longer-lasting form of satisfaction (Esfahani Smith & Aaker, 2016).

Here is a closer look at this important phenomenon and its implications for individuals considering a career in counselling.

Purpose’s Relationship to Happiness May Be Rooted in Biology

There is strong evidence backing the idea that the relationship between purpose and happiness is tied to our social nature. Researchers, for instance, have found evidence demonstrating that serving others is a particularly effective pathway to enjoying a sense of purpose and meaning (Tsipursky, 2016). Time Magazine has also noted that “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable” (Santi, 2017).

While these findings do not suggest that the only way to find meaning is through sociability and charity, they do suggest an inherent human quality that derives pleasure from engaging in purpose-driven, giving behaviours.

Professionals With Counsellor Training May See That Purposeful Living Helps Maintain Health

Experts suggest that a sense of purpose can also help clients enjoy greater overall health. Quoted by Psychology Today, Stephanie Hooker, Ph.D., M.P.H. has noted that “People who have a greater sense of meaning may be more likely to take care of themselves because they feel as if their lives matter more.” She has also observed that “They’ve got this ultimate purpose that they’re trying to achieve, and health is the foundation for being able to do that” (Wasmer Andrews, 2017).

The benefits imparted by a sense of purpose has biological implications as well. Researchers from UCLA and University of North Carolina discovered that individuals who derived their happiness from selflessness and meaning were more resilient to inflammation and infection than individuals whose happiness came from self-gratification and hedonism (Park, 2013). It was determined that the effects were likely achieved because engaging in purpose-driven acts resulted in changes to the functioning of the human genome itself. (Park, 2013). In fact, researchers found that “individuals with a strong sense of hedonic well-being showed high inflammatory gene expression and low expression of antiviral and antibody genes—meaning that their reaction to adversity would be similar to that of people under stress and anxiety.” (Park, 2013)

Jointly, these findings fit well with a prevailing philosophy underpinning modern counsellor training, where interconnections between physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health contribute to the total sense of satisfaction and wellbeing an individual enjoys. A person enjoying a sense of purpose could well enable them to live a healthier, and by extension happier, life.

counsellor therapist career

Living with purpose and meaning could help an individual enjoy greater health overall

The Research Suggests Promise and Opportunity for Individuals in Counsellor Therapist Careers

Research into the link between purpose and happiness has important implications not just for individuals who might seek out counselling, but for counsellors themselves.

Increasingly, work is seen as having a powerful influence on an individual’s sense of self-worth. Consider the view of Mias de Kierk, professor in Human Capital Management and Leadership Development at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, who has noted that people “want to see a larger purpose in their daily toiling at work. The practical significance of meaning in life is revealed when phrased as, “what makes my life worth living and my work worth doing?” (HR Pulse, 2017). In securing purposeful work, then, an individual may be able to find a greater measure of wellbeing in their everyday life.

Research suggests that a counsellor therapist career can provide just the sort of purpose conducive to lasting satisfaction, with recent survey data revealing that 90 per cent of counsellors rate their professional life as offering “High Meaning.” This should come as no surprise, given what is known about the relationship between life satisfaction and aiding others. In completing counselling training and learning to effectively deliver assistance and guidance to those in need, an individual could be establishing for themselves a career path that will allow them to enjoy the lasting satisfaction that comes from fulfilling work.

Do you want to build a career helping others and yourself find greater satisfaction?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College to learn about our counselling therapist courses in BC.

Works Cited

Esfahani Smith, E., & Aaker, J. (2016, December 30). In 2017, Pursue Meaning Instead of Happiness. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2016/12/in-2017-pursue-meaning-instead-of-happiness.html

HR Pulse. (2017, July 13). Employees Want More Meaning in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://hrpulse.co.za/editors-pick/235111-employees-want-more-meaning-in-the-workplace

Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., & Savino, N. S. (2011). Can Seeking Happiness Make People Happy? Paradoxical Effects of Valuing Happiness. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 11(4), 807–815. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0022010

Park, E. (2013, August 8). Sense of Purpose Makes You Happy and Healthy. UCLA Magazine. Retrieved from http://magazine.ucla.edu/exclusives/sense-of-purpose-makes-you-happy-and-healthy/

Payscale. (n.d.). The Most and Least Meaningful Jobs. Retrieved April 4, 2018, from https://www.payscale.com/data-packages/most-and-least-meaningful-jobs/full-list

Santi, J. (2017, August 4). The Secret to Happiness Is Helping Others. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4070299/secret-to-happiness/

Tsipursky, G., Ph.D. (2016, July 14). Is Serving Others the Key to Meaning and Purpose? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intentional-insights/201607/is-serving-others-the-key-meaning-and-purpose

Wasmer Andrews, L. (2017, July 14). How a Sense of Purpose in Life Improves Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201707/how-sense-purpose-in-life-improves-your-health