Can a Purposeful Life Help Us Live Longer?

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Medical Wellness

Does having a purpose – a sense of direction and goals – add years to our life span? Increasing studies suggest that finding a purpose for your life may add years to it. Having well-defined motivations in life is thought to empower individuals to engage in regular and long-term goals that give driven individuals to navigate life with a healthy sense of motivation, and in a way, better life satisfaction. 

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We can reap the benefits of healthier choices, reduced stress, and improved mental and physical health, all of which can contribute to longevity. Here’s an outline to explore how a purposeful life can help us live longer. 

The Link Between Purposeful Life and Longevity

According to Dan Buettner’s “Power 9®” principles, one of the evidence-based common denominators translates to having a sense of purpose, the “whys of waking up in the morning”. The Japanese describe it best as “Ikigai”; akin to having a meaningful, productive life that drives the everyday you, if we may lay it out in simple terms. Residents in Nicoya, Costa Rica, one of the world’s “Blue Zones, term it “plan de vida’; which translates to life’s plan, a purpose, a mission, and the way to fulfil that destiny. 

This concept, grounded in psychological and health research, suggests that having a sense of purpose or meaning in life has also been coming up consistently as an indicator of healthy ageing and its potential for reducing mortality risk. 

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Take Ellsworth Wareham, who lived to be 104, perhaps the epitome of a Blue Zone resident for instance: A cardiothoracic surgeon from the United States, he retired from surgery at age 95 but continued to work in his garden and stayed active in his community. Wareham attributed his longevity to a vegan diet and maintaining a purpose through his passion for surgery and later, his gardening and community involvement. His life demonstrates the impact of dietary choices and continued engagement in meaningful (purposeful) work. 

Having a Purposeful Life Benefits Us in Many Ways:

Philosophical discourse aside, from a wellness perspective, having a purposeful life has been shown to benefit us in a number of ways, as research has shown: 

  • Increased Happiness: Having a sense of purpose often leads to greater overall happiness and life satisfaction as we go about building relationships and even communities throughout our lives. One of the longest-running studies on happiness, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, kept track of 724 men since 1938 revealed that good relationships keep us healthier and happier.

Watch psychiatrist Robert Waldinger’s video on Ted Talk on “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”: 

Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on… 

  • Better Mental Health: Findings suggest that people with a strong sense of purpose are more likely to recover from exposure to negative stimuli. The study postulates that having a purpose in life may help an individual to reframe negative incidences to facilitate recovery from stressful events in life. 
  • Improved Physical Health: Purposeful living has been linked to better physical health outcomes, including lower risk of chronic diseases such as stroke. This may be due to the conscious pursuit of healthier lifestyle choices to see to the completion of our life work or projects that we are passionate about. 

Living a purposeful life has been linked to various positive health outcomes, including the potential for a longer lifespan. Readers are encouraged to consider ways to live more purposefully, and while we are at it, have fun, relax, and live life to the fullest. 


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