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A life with a purpose lasts longer

Winning a competition. Conserving an area of nature. Bringing up your children. It doesn't matter what your purpose in life is, as long as you have one. According to American psychologists having a purpose extends your life expectancy.

Purpose in life
A life with a purpose lasts longer
If elderly people regard their life as having a purpose and being meaningful, they are healthier and live longer. [J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 Jun;64(4):517-27.] The American health researcher Neal Krause discovered this five years ago. A purpose in life, direction, or whatever you call it, encourages longevity in elderly people.

Research method
But is this also the case for younger people? This is the question that psychologist Patrick Hill, of Carleton University in the US, tried to answer with study involving 6163 adults. At the start of the study their ages varied from 20-75 years old. Hill followed them for 14 years.

At the start of the study the participants had to indicate the extent to which they agreed with various statements including: "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them", or "I live life one day at a time and don't really think about the future". Hill used their answers to decide whether the participants had a purpose in life.

Live longer
When Hill analysed his data after 14 years, 569 participants had died. As a group they had noticeably less direction in their life than the participants who had survived. Having a purpose in life also offered protection against dying in younger age groups.

The table below shows that variables such as age, male sex and being retired can significantly raise the mortality risk, and that a high education level and a purpose in life can significantly reduce the likelihood of death. The effect of a purpose in life was even slightly greater than that of education.

A life with a purpose lasts longer

"The current study underscores the potential for purpose to influence healthy aging across adulthood and points to the need for further investigation on why finding a purpose may add years to one's life", writes Hill. "For instance, given the link between purpose and agency, it may be important to examine daily physical activity and goal achievement as pathways linking purpose to healthy aging."

Psychol Sci. 2014 May 8;25(7):1482-1486.

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