By Heather Callaghan
The world can seem truly muddled up – its people confused and frightened out of their wits. There’s little we have control over, except for steering our own lives. You can – and deserve – to define a life’s purpose to guide your steps, no matter what’s going on around you. At the very least, nothing can stop the definition of it for you – and it can’t hurt to think about it.
Regardless of your age, feeling a sense of purpose for being alive – a life’s purpose or calling – can help you live longer, according to research published in Psychological Science.
And the good news is…it doesn’t matter when you find it.
Lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada, said:
Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose. So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.
Some previous studies determined that finding a purpose in life lowered the risk of early death, but Hill wondered about research examining whether the benefits of purpose vary over time, such as across different developmental periods or after important life transitions.
He and colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center explored, by using data available from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study and looked at over 6,000 participants. They focused on those people’s self-reported purpose in life (e.g., “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them”).
Over the 14-year follow-up period represented in the MIDUS data, 569 of the participants had died (about 9% of the sample). Those who had died had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.
Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period.
The consistent results made Hill remark:
There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones. For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events. In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.
To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct.These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.
Now the researchers want to know if there is a connection between a life’s purpose and making better health decisions. Could that further account for longevity? And, aside from having a longer life span, they’d like to see if this whole life purpose thing has other effects on a person’s life.
Two years ago, a similar study found that a life purpose could protect people from negative changes in the brain that are seen in Alzheimer’s patients. So it appears that the biological effects of a life’s purpose are cataloged by at least two studies.
It turns out, I’ve written about Dr. Turiano’s research before. He used the same data from the 6,000 participants of the MIDUS study. To recap, he found that higher education had nothing to do with a longer life. It’s the ability to live life on your own terms – the feeling of control over your own life. Interestingly, a different study found that the belief of “steering your own ship,” so to speak, led to greater physical grip in elderly people.
Do people take enough time to figure it out or develop that calling? It’s easy not to with “weapons of mass distraction” everywhere. I think it takes time as a result of doing, but also with some reflection.
Just for further reading’s sake, you might appreciate what the author of Modern Madness: The Hidden Link Between Work and Emotional Conflict has to say about this study and finding your life’s purpose. He expounds on it at HuffingtonPost. Of course, there are countless writings on the topic…
All in all, I think each person, deep down, truly knows! Maybe it’s just a matter doing more of what you’re passionate about and putting “your personal mission statement” into words on paper as a reminder.
You tell me: do you have a life’s purpose and how did you find it? Has it made your life better?