Category Archives: Purpose & Meaning

Sense of purpose reduces mortality

Purpose in life refers to the sense that life has meaning and direction and that one’s goals and potential are being achieved or are achievable. Greater purpose in life has been shown to be associated with several psychological outcomes, including a more positive outlook on life, happiness, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Most importantly research has also found that sense of purpose appears to reduce mortality.

One piece of research examined the association of purpose in life with mortality in >1200 community-dwelling older persons. During 5 years of follow-up, greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of death; more specifically, the hazard rate of a person with a high score on the purpose in life measure was about 57% of that for a person with a low score. The association of purpose in life with mortality did not vary by age, gender, education, or race, and the finding persisted after adjustment for several important covariates, including depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of medical conditions, and income.

The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older people suggests that aspects of human flourishing—particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behaviour—contribute to health and wellbeing in later life.

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Contributing to others improves wellbeing

Meaning and purpose can be severely challenged in later life as society generally fails to perceive older people as having a meaningful role to play. New research has added to the growing body of evidence to suggest that having a strong sense of meaning and purpose plays a very significant part in wellbeing in later life. The study looked at the phenomenon of ‘generativity’ – the concern with giving to others or leaving a legacy. It tested whether greater self perceptions of generativity were linked to feelings of connectedness, self worth, and positive emotions. They compared those people who felt they had achieved their desired level of generativity in life with those who felt that they had failed to meet their expectations.

Higher ratings of perceived contributions to the welfare of others were associated with greater current and future propensity to experience positive emotions and interact with others and with life’s challenges in a positive way. It was also associated with greater self worth and life satisfaction. Contributing to the wellbeing of others is therefore indicated as an important dimension of ageing positively. Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life is critical to health and wellbeing in later life.

For the full research paper click here