I‘m thrilled that more and more study is being devoted to evaluating the impact of elements such as passion, purpose, meaning and having and expressing an authentic voice in our lives … even if the results often seem like a statement of the obvious. It seems almost self-evident, for example, that people who feel more engaged by their jobs, or believe that their job is important, or matters, show less job stress and perform better in those jobs than people who don’t. (I’ve even written about the importance of believing that what you do matters in previous posts, here and here .) Or even that people who feel that their lives have purpose live longer (the psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, came to that conclusion back in the 1940s, after observing concentration camp survivors).
Nevertheless, it’s helpful to have scientific support for some of those ideas. And as scientific research methods and capabilities have expanded, some interesting, and very specific, data has emerged. Take, for example, a recent study by the Rush University Medical Center researchers, quoted in an article in this month’s Atlantic magazine.
To quote the article, “Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have found that a third of people whose brains, upon autopsy, display the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s never exhibited memory loss or intellectual impairment. The best predictor of whether someone would escape these symptoms was whether they felt strongly that they had a purpose in life. Those who did were two and a half times as likely to be unafflicted as those who didn’t.” [click to continue…]
A few posts ago, I discussed a new study that concluded that people who attempt an entrepreneurial venture end up better off financially, regardless of whether the venture succeeds or fails. (The theory being you learn from the experience and return to a salaried job smarter and savvier, even if your self-employment doesn’t pan out.)
Well, here’s another, if more sobering, study that lays out why spending some time in your career forging your own path may have important benefits, even if it’s tough, or doesn’t “succeed” in the end.
Silvia Canetto, a psychology professor at Colorado State University, published a study in November that explores a perplexing phenomenon: namely, that suicide rates are higher among older white men than among any other demographic group–despite the fact that white men tend to have “fewer burdens associated with aging” than other groups. White males are, for example, less likely to experience widowhood and tend to have better physical health and fewer disabilities than older women, while having more economic resources to deal with problems of aging than women or ethnic minority men.
So what accounts for the high depression and suicide rates? Professor Canetto gives two main reasons. The primary cause, she believes, is a “rigidity in coping and sense of self.” White men, she asserts, “may be less psychologically equipped to deal with the normal challenges of aging … likely because of their privilege up until late adulthood.” The second reason–for the higher incidence of suicide as a response to that depression, anyway–is that suicide is seen, culturally, as at least a masculine response to despair, a la Ernest Hemingway. [click to continue…]