Do you believe you are here for a reason — that your life has purpose and meaning? If so, you may have more time to accomplish your life's work, according to new research showing that people who feel they have a sense of purpose in life tend to live longer.
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science
, has clear implications for promoting positive aging
, said lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada, Medical Xpress
"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," said Hill. "So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur."
Hill and colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center explored the issue by analyzing information the long-running Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study. They examined answers to surveys given to more than 6,000 participants, focusing on their self-reported purpose in life (e.g., "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them") and other psychosocial variables that gauged their positive relations with others.
Over the 14-year period studied, 569 of the participants had died (about 9 percent). Those who had died had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors. Those reporting greater purpose in life consistently had longer lifespans — a finding that came as a surprise to the researchers.
"There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones," said Hill. "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."
He added that researchers are now investigating whether having a purpose might lead people to adopt healthier lifestyles.
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