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Conscious Aging: Sense of Purpose Contributes to Longevity

Finding purpose in life impacts lifespan

A recently published study in the Association for Psychological Science journal Psychological Science suggests that having a sense of purpose may add years to your life. Previous studies have also shown that purpose lowers risk of mortality, but what sets this study apart is its demonstration that the benefit of purpose does not change over diverse developmental periods or major life transitions.

Lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University, who collaborated with University of Rochester Medical Center’s Nicholas Turiano on the project, states that, along with validating previous findings, these results suggest discovering a direction and setting meta-achievement goals can impact mortality no matter when a purpose is discovered. He goes on to say it is possible that the earlier a purpose is revealed the earlier the benefit of purpose in life may arise.

Researchers looked at data from over 6,000 participants in the nationwide Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, focusing specifically on questions devoted to self-reported purpose in life, variables weighing positive interpersonal relations, and measures of positive and negative emotion. Over the 14-year longitudinal period represented by the data, 596 participants (approximately 9%) died. This group had reported both lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did the remaining participants.

The researchers point out that within the remaining group, greater purpose in life was a consistent predictor of lower mortality risk across the lifespan. Moreover, this outcome was uniformly true for younger, middle-aged, and older participants.

It makes sense to have an expectation that purpose in life would be beneficial for older individuals who have experienced the departure of children, retirement, loss of a spouse, or other life transitions. That sense of purpose is shown to predict longer lives for both younger and older individuals equally is the more interesting and revealing outcome, emphasizing the impact of establishing a purpose. These findings suggest that there is something singularly influential about finding a purpose that has an impact on longevity, no matter where one is in the lifespan.

© 2014 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Photo credit: "Buddha is the Bridge" Hartwig HKD

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