Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer according to research published in Psychological Science.
Lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada says that the research has implications for promoting positive aging and adult development. he says “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.”
Hill and his colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center decided to explore the influence that having a purpose has on our lives by researching data from over 6000 participants by 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 indicated their positive relations with others and their experience of positive and negative emotions.
Over the 14-year follow-up period, 569 of the participants had died (approximately 9%). Those who had died reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than survivors. Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan. It showed the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period. This consistency surprised the researchers. Hill says “To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting and underscores the power of the construct”.
Purpose had similar benefits for adults regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. Interestingly, the longevity benefits of purpose in life were still visible even after accounting for other indicators of psychological well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.
While I personally believe that the primary reason for having a purpose is to maximize my impact on the people that are important to me and the world more generally (and believe that this reason alone is far more significant and important than simply adding years to my existence on the earth), this research is particularly important for those of you that may be older and have only recently discovered that you may not have enough time to achieve the impact you would ideally like to achieve.