A study conducted by a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers and published in Psychological Science found that having a sense of purpose can extend your life.
The study, which began in 2000, used representative data from over 6,000 U.S. participants aged 20 – 75 years old. Researchers assessed each participant’s purpose in life by the extent to which they agreed with three statements:
Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them
I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future
I sometimes feel as I’ve done all there is to do in life.
The researchers also measured other psychosocial variables such as the positivity of the participant’s relationships and emotions.
After 14 years, the research team did a follow-up study and found that 9 percent (569) of the participants had died. Individuals that had measured high in purpose outlived those who had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relationships.
The study’s lead researcher, Patrick Hill of Carleton University, said about the findings:
“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”
While previous studies have shown that purpose in life lowers the risk of mortality, no other study has shown that greater purpose in life consistently predicted a lower mortality risk across all ages, regardless of other variables such as mood and whether a person is retired or not.
Co-researcher of the study, Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center, said:
“To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct.”
The study’s authors are currently investigating whether having purpose in life may be connected to other beneficial attributes, such as physical fitness. “In so doing, we can better understand the value of finding a purpose throughout the lifespan, and whether it provides different benefits for different people,” Hill said.