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Focus on mental health: Purpose fosters perseverance

The old adage holds that where there is a will, there is a way.

No matter what the obstacle or obstacles that are standing in front of a goal, a person’s motivation and desire to reach that goal are often the biggest factors in his or her achieving it.

Motivation and desire are often rooted in a deep sense of purpose. For an endeavor to be deemed worthwhile, a valid reason and purpose must often be assigned to the endeavor.

People with structure, direction and a sense of purpose in their lives generally experience much more satisfaction and fulfillment than individuals who drift along aimlessly.

A single mother working two jobs to provide for her children is much less likely to fall victim to despair than a retiree who feels that he has nothing to get up for each morning.

“If you don’t have a reason to get up in the morning, then you might not get up in the morning, or you might get up really late,” said Denis Navarro, retired outpatient services director and clinical specialist at the UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services Department. “Everybody has to find their route of what is important to them.”

Family is at the top of the priority list for many people. But single people with no spouses or children can still find a great sense of purpose in such outlets as their faith, their place of worship, their paid work, volunteer work or a humanitarian cause or causes.

“I think that having something to do (is very important), and it may not necessarily be for a paycheck,” Navarro said. “Work is important. But if somebody isn’t able to work, for whatever reason, I would talk to them about doing some volunteering or doing something that makes them fulfilled.

“You have to have a purpose,” Navarro said. “(The purpose) can be very simple. A lot of people get fulfillment out of just being out in the yard and digging in their garden.”

Pets can provide a wonderful purpose and a very healthy outlet for people.

The unconditional love provided by a pet, coupled with the knowledge that the animal is totally reliant on its owner for its sustenance and survival, is extremely beneficial for many individuals.

“A lot of people find comfort in pets — taking care of a pet, the gratification of having a pet, the give-and-take of a (relationship with) a pet,” Navarro said. “That’s one connection that somebody can make when they feel that people have let them down — their dog or cat or frog is always there.”

Dr. Joseph Antonowicz, medical director at the UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services Department, also believes that having a purpose is essential in life.

“It’s something outside of yourself that gives meaning,” Antonowicz said. “What gives you a sense of reward? What gives you a sense of mattering?”

Almost everybody has a different sense of purpose at the age of 25 than they do at the age of 45, and a still more different sense of purpose at the age of 60 or 65.

“(As a therapist), you can help people to find direction. But (over time), you know that (a person’s sense of purpose in life) will change,” Antonowicz said. “You don’t think at (age) 60 the way you did at (age) 20.”

A sense of existential depression can occur when a person struggles to discern a purpose for anything in his or her life.

This often takes place during the proverbial mid-life crisis, when what was once held near and dear for an individual ceases to hold any meaning.

“I think that many people struggle with (lacking a sense of purpose) at one time or another,” Antonowicz said. “A person can assign the purpose for his or her life themselves, or take the higher-power approach that there is a God-given purpose for their existence. A purpose changes over time.”

Next: Examining the importance of gratitude.

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