Does Having A Purpose In Life Make You Live Longer?

Long life is not only determined by following a good diet and exercise routine because finding purpose and meaning are equally as important as the former in achieving longevity. Case in point is psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book published in 1946 titled “Man’s Search For Meaning,” which details his survival story in Nazi concentration camps. Frankl held on to the vision of his wife and the work he wanted to pursue once he returned to normal life when he was in the depths of despair. 

Importantly, he found meaning in his suffering, which kept him going, although men around him had grown disillusioned under the series of torturous treatment that were given to them. In other words, his commitment to thinking positive and the purpose he envisioned for the rest of his life were the reasons he lived up till 92 years of age.   

There are people like him today who continue to reorient themselves with life and find new things once they reach an impasse, otherwise known as old age. Whether it is holidaying across the world, learning skills, doing philanthropy or volunteering, or just simply helping raise grandchildren, finding new goals and meeting them is what truly keeps people healthy and happy.  

In a recent article on Harvard Health Publishing, Kelly Bilodeau, executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, spelled out why having a purpose in old age could extend the human life span. 

When researchers asked people what drives their purpose in old age, they named many factors. The different reasons guiding people’s purpose later in life ranged from relationships, family, hobbies, a sense of community, the need to participate in society and help others, and also pick up new skills and expertise. 

“I define it as the extent to which people experience their lives as being directed and motivated by valued life goals,” Eric Kim, PhD, a researcher in department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said. 

Purposeful Life Increases Mortality

A paper published by the University of Michigan School of Public Health in the journal JAMA Network followed about 7,000 subjects over 50 years of age for more than a decade and found that people were more likely to die young if they felt their life had little purpose. The estimates were made through the data derived from The Health and Retirement Study, a registry of U.S. adults above 50 years old. 

Enrollment of participants born between 1931 and 1941 started as early as 1992. Of them, 6,985 adults rated seven statements part of a survey assessing their outlook on the future. It was found that those who had scored poorly on the seven-item checklist were 2.43 times more likely to have died before the end of the study. Furthermore, people with the lowest scores were 2.6 times more likely to die from cardiovascular and blood-related illnesses, Reuters reported. 

Another study, published in The Lancet on November 5, 2014, which was led by the University College London, evaluated answers to a questionnaire on the sense of purpose and meaning and feeling of control that they foresaw in their later years. The study found that of the 9,050 participants with an average age of 65, people with the greatest well-being were 30 percent less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least well-being.

Elderly Couples Finding purpose after 50 could result in long life. Marie-Sophie Tékian/Unsplash