In Japan, having a sense of purpose is expressed through the term ikigai. It means "life worth living." Associated with a sense of ikigai is a greater motivation to live and to experience positive emotions like joy and love. In a longitudinal study named the Ohsaki Study, it included over 40,000 Japanese women and men aged between 40 to 79 years. Researchers asked a simple question: "Do you have ikigai in your life?" Researchers learned that those without a clear ikigai had an increased risk of mortality. Why does purpose positively influence longevity in life? And how does your business benefit from employees having a sense of purpose?
The Personal Benefits of Purpose
Scientists are still studying why purpose positively influences our health and longevity in life. However, author and researchers Todd Kashdan and Patrick McKnight offer some "pathways" to purpose. Below are some of the pathways. They provide a glimpse into making sense of the value of purpose to your employees and your business.
Here Kashdan and McKnight suggest that a sense of purpose may help people engage more deeply in their work. This can lead to a more profound sense of satisfaction creating a virtuous cycle: purpose fuels focus; focus leads to progress in work.
When you or your employees have a sense of purpose, you are more likely to know and name your core values. You can more easily align your interests with your personal "Why." Combined, your values and interests help you identify goals. What's more, your purpose enables you to develop meaningful goals. Kashdan and McKnight warn, however, that it is faulty logic to assume a sense of purpose means goal clarity and attainment.
In the face of obstacles and setbacks, resilient people find a way to keep moving forward. Researchers have posited that purpose plays a role in resilient people. The logic goes like this: My clarity of purpose helps me stay focused on what I need to do when I encounter a problem. Purpose, in this case, is like the north star. It helps guide you when you don't have all the means necessary to navigate back to where you want to be.
Health and Wellbeing
The Ohsaki Study found plenty of wellness benefits in the participants who answered "yes" to the study's question. Here is a list of some of the positive outcomes:
- Self-rated health was good or excellent (77 percent)
- Mild or very mild bodily pain (50 percent)
- Unlimited physical functioning (81 percent)
- Sleep duration was between seven and eight hours (69 percent)
- Low perceived mental stress (22 percent)
It's interesting to note that 66 percent of those who said they have a sense of ikigai experienced moderate levels of stress. The study did not suggest reasons for the substantial increase.
Business Benefits of Purpose
So, what do companies say about the value of purpose? In one study from EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business School, the top five essential elements linked to purpose are creating value for customers, having a positive impact on society/the community, inspiring innovation, and positive change, providing employees with a sense of meaning and fulfillment, and generating financial returns for shareholders.
A clear purpose is a potent, aspirational factor linked to performance. It's also a strong intrinsic motivator that excites employees to want to apply their talents and strengths to their work. However, a false sense of purpose can backfire. To prevent purpose to go the way of values, vision, and mission, leaders need to have a genuine conversation about the company's "Why." It must be socialized at all levels of the organization. When employees freely advocate and promote your company's purpose, you've achieved an organic, genuine belief in why your company exists.
Your company does not exist to make money. That is the outcome of a compelling purpose. Your company exists to solve a problem your customers' value. That is a great place to look when seeking clarity of purpose.