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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links