By Dr George Blair-West
Dancing with your Daimon: Having a purpose in life is not a luxury
– not if you value your health
Psychiatry, especially working with trauma and obesity, is incisively informative. You get to see all aspects of life stripped bare as your patients remind you again and again what really matters in life. More than anything, you get to see what works and what falls way short when it comes to making sense of our lives and finding true happiness.
In my work with the overweight, time and time again I come across people for whom eating, and food, is the most meaningful part of their day. Food gives them the most pleasure in their day. Any diets they had previously tried were doomed to fail from the outset. This was because they were being asked to give up so much more than extra calories – they were being asked to give up the most rewarding part of their existence! When we confuse pleasure with happiness we are in all sorts of trouble.
Our Daimon is the unique mix of capabilities and strengths that each of us bring into this world.
Unfortunately, Eudaimonia was mistranslated as “happiness” and this concept of expressing one’s Daimon was lost, until recently. I’m sure that when people read the translation saying, in essence, ‘The greatest emotional state we can aspire to is happiness,’ they responded with their version of ‘Duh!.’
For a lot of people I come across – both in my consulting rooms and the outside world – pursuing one’s purpose is seen as a luxury – something you do when you have the rest of your life sorted out. Believe this at your peril. Twenty-five years of working with people trying to feel better, leads me to suggest that you will not get your life really sorted out until you work out your values, what is meaningful and what purpose this informs for you. Until then true happiness will be elusive.
If you do not believe me, believe Carol Ryff – she did the research. In what I would suggest was one of the most informative studies ever undertaken, Dr Ryff took 135 educated women, aged between 60 and 90, who were already doing okay at life (she is studying degrees of happiness, so this was appropriate). She then identified a subgroup of women with a sense of purpose in life and compared these to the others. She then put them all through rigorous physical examinations and laboratory tests.
What she found was that the women with a purpose in life had higher levels of the good, protective cholesterol, HDL; lower waist-hip ratios (i.e. lower weight); and a decreased inflammatory response (that leads to a range of diseases). While there is a lot of conjecture about the importance of the mind-body axis, few studies have given hard evidence of the health benefits of a given mindset.
So not only are we achieving our highest emotional state, when we have a sense of purpose in life, we are physically healthier. This is why one of my primary strategies for helping some people to lose weight is to help them work out what is meaningful for them and what does this mean for how they can best live their life.
Learning to dance with your Daimon, is not an option, it is why we are here. Our true quest in life is to work out what is meaningful for us – which will reflect our inner Daimon –and to pursue a purpose that allows us to give our Daimon full, glorious expression.
– Medical Doctor and Psychiatrist, Dr George Blair-West, is the bestselling author of Weight Loss for Food Lovers: Understanding our minds and why we sabotage our weight loss. His latest book, the award-winning The Way of The Quest, explores the ‘how to’ of finding one’s purpose in life. For more visit www.dr.blair-west.com