Living a Calling: Meaning, Purpose, and Health
Have you ever felt that you were put on this earth for a reason, or that you have an assignment or destiny to fulfill? Maybe you’ve always known that you were meant to have a family of your own or be a doctor. For some people, the sense of calling is a vague internal nudge that says “Yes, this job is the right fit for me”. But for others, there is a more clear sense of destiny, a definite intuitive awareness such as, “I always knew I was meant to be a mother”. What is this sense of calling? And if we have it, how does it affect our lives?
Researchers have noted that a sense of calling can emerge from a perception of destiny (like a call from an external source), or a feeling that a certain role is a perfect fit. Calling generally refers to a career that is personally meaningful and focused on helping others. However it develops, people who have a sense of calling experience a number of positive results: more commitment to their careers, a strong sense of meaning, and more satisfaction with their jobs and with life in general. Working in a career that feels like a calling is a definite path toward happiness.
Until recently, the chain of events that happened when a person responded to a calling followed a simple pattern: a calling to a particular career was experienced and acted on; the person entered their desired career and then experienced great job satisfaction and more meaning in life. However, more recent studies have found that things are more complicated than that.
It turns out that living a calling may be better thought of as the result rather than the cause, of a committed, meaningful, and satisfying career. The key here is that when we focus behaviorally on certain career tasks that are meaningful to us, we can experience a greater sense of living our calling. I may feel, for example, that I am here to help others. By focusing on the helping aspects of my career as a teacher, I am living my calling and likely more satisfied with my life as a result.
Where does this sense of calling come from? We can’t say for sure but we know that a sense of calling and a sense of meaning in life are closely related. Victor Frankl once wrote that “Man’s search for meaning is the primary force in his life…”. Frankl believed that one way meaning can be discovered in our lives is by creating a work or doing a deed (or maybe having a career).
Research suggests that frequency of prayer and a belief in God are related to believing that one’s life has purpose. So a sense of calling, sense of life purpose, prayer, and belief in God all seem to reflect a common prayerful perspective, an intuitive awareness of our relationship with a greater spirit.
Can we rely on intuition? Consider this: when you fall in love, do you logically select a person with the greatest statistical likelihood of success and longevity, or do you go with your heart and make a decision based on intuition? We live and breathe by intuition far more than we realize. The students I train don’t choose our field because of the salary. They choose it because it is their calling and it seems to reflect their intuitive sense of mission.
How does this sense of meaning, purpose, and calling affect our lives? Not surprisingly, meaning and purpose in life are associated with positive emotions in U.S. college students. At the same time, several studies of American adolescents found that a lack of meaning in life was associated with suicidal thinking and substance problems.
Living a calling and having a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life make us happier and more resilient. We are better able to handle the stressors we face if we are grounded in an empowering worldview. Clearly, if we want happiness and success, we would do well to pray for meaning and purpose, the foundation of a happier and more resilient life.