Vic Strecher wants to democratize the application of the research on purpose to help make people's lives better. He is Professor and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at University of Michigan School of Public Health, but he is also the founder of JOOL Health.Why should we have a purpose in life? How is purpose related to well-being? Can thinking about our purpose help us make better decisions? These are the kinds of questions Victor J. Strecher ponders and researches.
I can’t remember exactly how his book, Life on Purpose, came on my radar last year, but I am so glad it did! When I was part-way through the book, the way he wrote about the data and all the research he and others have done in the area of well-being made me wonder if Vic might be a JMP user.
As it turns out, Vic is a longtime JMP user! Having also seen his TEDx Talk and his TEDMED Talk, I knew he would be an excellent plenary speaker for JMP Discovery Summit. We’re so glad we got to him before his calendar filled. Not only is he Professor and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at University of Michigan School of Public Health, but he is also the founder of JOOL Health, which has him traveling quite a bit. Vic was kind enough to answer a few questions on purpose.
Please share some of your research on the power of a strong sense of purpose in life.
Our research group has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine neural activation from purposeful thinking in sedentary adults, then subsequent changes in physical activity from smartphone-based messages. We see a clear and consistent activation of the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) — a part of the brain associated with self-related processing. The more active this part of the brain gets, the more behavior change we see. We’ve also found in epidemiologic cohort research that purposeful people are more likely to use preventive health services, have fewer hospital visits, and have more health behavior changes. This is after statistically adjusting for demographic, health status, and health behavior factors. Having a strong purpose in life or, in experimental studies, just thinking about or writing about your purpose, has produced a wide range of positive effects. The results are both strong and consistent.
Of the authors you’ve read and mentioned in your book, Life on Purpose, which most shaped your thinking on having a purpose?
It would have to be Viktor Frankl, a physician who was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. His observations of people who maintained a purpose in life are vivid illustrations of the power of purpose. His efforts to help people live more purposeful, self-transcending lives, is an inspiration for me and for millions of others.
What gave you the idea for your latest venture, JOOL Health?
I wanted to democratize what Viktor Frankl was doing to help people find and align with their purpose on an individual level. Extending his efforts to the digital world, where we can now help a person compose their life purpose, change it at any time, and learn what gives them greater alignment with their purpose — all by moving electrons around — is a great opportunity.
You can learn more about Vic and read the abstract of his talk "Life On Purpose: Integrating Predictive Modeling, Big Data, and Mobile Technology for Health and Well-Being." You can also watch an Analytically Speaking interview on Nov. 15 or watch it on demand after that.