How to live longer: Find your purpose in life

Do you wander aimlessly through life, taking each day as it comes, or do you have a clear goal in mind? New research published in Psychological Science shows that at any age, having a sense of purpose could add years to your life.

According to the researchers, their results suggest that creating a purpose for yourself could promote healthy ageing throughout adulthood. “Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says lead researcher Dr Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada.

Purposefulness has previously been found to be one of the strongest predictors of longevity, but this is the first study in which this effect has been isolated from other psychological and social influences on lifespan. It is also the first to include younger age groups. Having a sense of purpose was consistently linked to longer life across all age categories, leading Dr Hill to believe that “the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur."

Working alongside Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Hill examined data from a large-scale longitudinal study of health and wellbeing conducted in the US amongst adults between the ages of 20 and 75. As a measure for the level of purpose in life, the researchers used the scores participants had given when rating themselves against three 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”; and “I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life”.

Fourteen years after filling in this questionnaire, nine per cent of the participants in the study had passed away. Those that were still alive had scored significantly higher on self-reported purpose in life, a finding that was surprisingly consistent across all age groups. With older adults facing greater mortality risks than younger individuals, and possibly being in more need of a sense of direction after leaving the work force, the researchers had predicted a stronger effect for the older age category. According to Hill, the fact that the data for the younger group revealed the same pattern, shows the potency of finding a purpose at any stage in adult life.

The study is also the first to show the link between purposefulness and lifespan regardless of retirement status, social connectedness and wellbeing, all known to be linked to physical health. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Dr Hill.

It is still unknown through which mechanisms a sense of purpose may increase a person’s life expectancy. It is possible that those with a clear purpose could be getting more physical exercise, or enjoying the benefits of achieving their goals regularly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'