Will a purpose-driven life help you live longer?

Do you get joy out of volunteering, helping out with your grandkids, or learning new skills in that class you’ve been taking?

If you said yes, it could help you live longer. As it turns out, being inspired by things in your life doesn’t just help your emotional well-being — it may keep you healthier.

A 2019 JAMA Network Open study found that among a group of nearly 7,000 adults over age 50, those who scored highest on a scale that measured “life purpose” were less likely to die during the four-year study period. They were also less likely to die during the same period from heart, circulatory, or blood conditions, compared with those who scored lower.

“There have been a number of studies suggesting that a higher sense of purpose in life is associated with reduced risk of early death,” says Eric S. Kim, PhD, a research scientist in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “However, this study showed for the first time that sense of purpose in life is associated with specific causes of death, and that’s an interesting advancement of knowledge.”

Defining a purposeful life

So, what exactly is life purpose? Life purpose is defined differently by different people. But in general it indicates that you have an aim in life and goals. This purpose, the study authors said, helps make it more likely that you will engage in behaviors that are good for your health. Some studies have simply asked people what gives them a sense of purpose in life, says Kim. People listed such factors as

  • family and relationships
  • community
  • helping others
  • learning new skills
  • taking part in leisure activities or hobbies.

“I define it as the extent to which people experience their lives as being directed and motivated by valued life goals,” says Kim.

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