A new study suggests the presence of, and search for, meaning in life is important for a person's health and well-being. That's because the physical aspect of searching for the meaning of our lives has to be associated with health and wellness, and not only with mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

The question that has yet to be answered, however, is when does this confounding search end? This new three-year, cross-sectional study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry gives us a clear answer.

Not surprisingly, it found the presence of meaning in life is linked better with physical and mental well-being.

"When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don't have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out," said Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the University California, San Diego School of Medicine.

"Many think about the meaning and purpose in life from a philosophical perspective, but meaning in life is associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity. Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it."

The study's results reveal the search for meaning in life showed a U-shaped relationship with age. The researchers found age 60 is when the presence of meaning in life peaks -- and the search for meaning of life is at its lowest point. But in an eerie twist, this search doesn't completely end after 60, as per the study.

"When you are young, like in your twenties, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life," Jeste explained. "As you start to get into your thirties, forties and fifties, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you're settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases."

"After age 60, things begin to change," he pointed out.

This is the age when people retire from their job and start to lose their identity. They have to contend with health issues. Family members and friends pass away in a steady stream.

As a result, people start searching for the meaning of life again since the meaning they once had has changed.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Awais Aftab, study first author and a fellow at UC San Diego, has the same conclusion as Jeste. He said that around 60 years old, people aren't actively searching for high levels of purpose. But before and after that, people tend to be actively pursuing meaning in their lives.

“Existing research points to a vital role played by factors such as a coherent sense of one’s identity, authentic relationships with friends and family members, engagement in long-term goals which provide a sense of accomplishment and contribute to the society, and acting with genuine altruism for the betterment of the world,” Aftab told Inverse.

He pointed out the search for meaning in life is normal. It may also take a toll on a person's health. Searching for meaning has a negative correlation with mental health, as suggested by the study results.

The study examined data from 1,042 adults, ages 21 to 100 and over that were part of the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE), a multi-cohort study of senior residents living in San Diego County. The presence and search for meaning in life were assessed with interviews, including a meaning in life questionnaire.

old people
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall in any part of the country. Pixabay