A major event like a pandemic can cause a reassessment of life. From relationships to work and even where people live. As a result of extended lockdowns, people have realised that a slower pace of life and return to a simpler life is desirable.
In this blog and podcast, we explore how a major event like this causes people to revaluate things in life and how it shows that a greater sense of meaning can impact our wellbeing, mental health, and also the future generations.
Why the pandemic caused a reassessment of life
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns didn’t create a pause, but rather, a full stop. It was an extended, unplanned stop that no one could have predicted, that caused a reset to the rhythms of life. That is why it was so profound in the opportunity it presented to re-examine life. It was even the case for the least reflective people, who were given the opportunity to think about the meaning and purpose of their life.
It was a two and a half thousand years ago that Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Stopping and reflecting, analysing and weighing up what we do and where we are headed is a healthy thing. Pre COVID-19, many people had full calendars. But there is a difference between a full calendar and an impactful calendar. And by extension, there is a difference between a full life and a meaningful life. Surely, we would all choose the meaningful life and not just the full one. The opportunity to stop for an extended period has been transformational and provided an opportunity to be intentional about commitments and time management moving forward.
What people are re-evaluating
Every aspect of life from relational to financial, vocational and social has been examined. When people assess a life well lived, or what the measure of life and success is, there are three categories that people often use:
Accumulations – what you have
Accomplishments – what you achieve
Activity – what you do
However, none of these really define a life of meaning or purpose. You can have lots of stuff. You can tick lots of boxes and have a busy calendar. Yet amidst all that fullness, there can be a lack of real meaning. More important than what you have, what you achieve or what you do, is where and to whom you belong. In other words, relationships with other people. That is what we saw in our research – relationships, reflections and living life with more purpose and impact became a priority for many.
How a sense of purpose and meaning contributes to our wellbeing
How people feel in life does impact their overall health and wellbeing. If people are not looking after themselves, it can lead to stress, anxiety and even physical ailments. It is important that people don’t have unmanageable stress, and that they have an ability to solve relational tensions. To work in a place of flourishing, where people can thrive mentally, and where they are refreshed in psychological wellbeing, will help overall health and wellbeing.
We are in a mental health pandemic in Australia, which has impacts on physical and social wellbeing. Beyond this, spiritual health also contributes to overall wellbeing. It is even reflected in the common phrase of mind, body and spirit. A transformative event like the pandemic has caused people to think more about the meaning of life, their own mortality, and God. Additionally, 26% said they were engaging more in spiritual conversations and 28% said they were also praying more. This holistic view of wellbeing connects physical issues with the spiritual and psychological. Wellbeing is not just about doing some stretching and going for a walk or a run, it is about psychological, spiritual, relational and social aspects.
Work Wellbeing and mental health
Work is a key contributor to someone’s overall wellbeing and is an important means through which they can find fulfilment and purpose. Remuneration is not the only reason that people work. For many, work is a key aspect of life through which they grow, find purpose, make contributions and are able to serve and contribute to the lives of others.
A sense of purpose is key to people’s wellbeing, and it also gives emphasis and leverage to other aspects of wellbeing like spiritual health and mental health. A reflection in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, is, “The one who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how”. The “why” can help us get through the “how” or the “what” of one’s own context. It is core to resilience. It is the means by which we forge character that won’t collapse when ill winds blow.
Younger generations are purpose-driven, even when it comes to their work. The top desire among Generation Z for their future career is to have purpose and meaning in their work. While it is true that previous generations also sought after purpose and meaning, it hasn’t always been so closely linked to their work. Whereas for the next generation who are spending more hours and more of their life at work as they live longer, they want to make sure that their work also achieves meaning and purpose, values, alignment, and impact as well. It is a great thing that they bring this expectation to the employment situation. They are raising the standard of what work is about by bringing a high view of vocation once more and making sure they hold employers to account.
This is the options generation, but we do them no favours to set them up with endless opportunities, but no purpose. It is an incredible time of opportunity for a school leaver today. An anchoring purpose helps to provide them with a sense of resilience, for not only their career but also their wellbeing, in a rapidly changing world.
How we can have more purpose and meaning in our work
Firstly, take advantage of this opportunity, whether it be the full stop, the blank page, or young people starting out as they move from learning into employment. Take advantage of this situation to sort out your priorities and live the examined life, because being intentional about this is worth doing.
Secondly, be flexible. The plan on the page doesn’t always play out perfectly. The real world is complex with curveballs, dead ends and challenges. By reflecting and reassessing, you can adjust the plan to the context you find yourself in.
Thirdly, be an example for others. Encouraging and mentoring others requires a life that is worth following or at least lessons and examples that we can point to that can be of benefit to others. That is what is behind leadership – building things that others can take and build further upon. Young people have this incredible opportunity to plan and to keep their eye on the goal, to look back and reflect and to be an example for others. That can give great meaning and purpose to their lives while also being impactful for others.