Longevity and Having a Purpose in Life

purposeStudies in older adults have suggested that having a sense of purpose in life can add years to longevity. Now researchers have taken a look at the question of whether these beneficial effects occur in younger people.

The study looked at a group of 6163 people aged 20 to 75 and followed them for 14 years. They found that having a sense of purpose in life was associated with reduced mortality in all ages. And the amount of that reduction was about the same in every age group.

You can see how you stack up.

Do you strongly agree, agree, feel neutral, disagree or strongly disagree with these 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.
  • Sometimes I feel as if I have done all there is to do in life.

This is the reference to the study:  Hill PL and Turiano NA.Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychol Sci 2014May 8.

Viktor Frankl wrote about the importance of this search for purpose in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, based on his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. The search for meaning in those circumstances was a life an death matter. Those who did not have one often did not survive. He later applied these insights and developed “logotherapy” – a type of psychotherapy specifically focused on helping people clarify their life purpose.

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. ― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

A more mundane application of this insight is found in the post about “tacking” – a way of developing a sense of direction that people who are depressed have found useful. It involves recognizing that a sense of purpose derives from the daily experience of choosing to move towards some goal, and what is important when one is depressed is not necessarily knowing exactly what they goal is (that may be impossible, since decision making is so affected by depression) but beginning to move in some positive direction.