A Sense of Purpose Helps You Live Longer

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“Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

Feeling useful and having a sense of purpose in life are clearly beneficial psychologically, but now research is revealing that there also physical benefits.

No matter what your age, new research finds, having a sense of purpose helps you live longer.

However, the earlier you find a sense of direction and purpose, the better.

The findings come from a study of more than 6,000 people who were followed over 14 years (Hill & Turiano, 2014).

The results showed that people who strongly agreed with statements like the following were less likely to die over the course of the study:

“Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

The researchers were surprised that these findings held, even for younger people.

Lead researcher, Patrick Hill, said:

“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.

These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.”

These findings are not isolated.

Recent studies have pointed to both the physical and psychological benefits of finding meaning in life, especially with advancing years:

  • A 2009 study of 1,238 elderly people found that those with a sense of purpose lived longer.
  • A 2010 study of 900 older adults found that those with a greater sense of purpose were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Survey data often links a sense of purpose in life with increased happiness.

No matter what your age, then, it’s worth thinking about what gives your life meaning.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have the whole thing planned out, but a sense of direction is clearly beneficial both psychologically and physically.

Find out what kinds of things people say give their lives meaning. Here’s an exercise for increasing meaningfulness and a study finding that feeling you belong increases the sense of meaning.

Image credit: godserv



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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 13 May 2014

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License