What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Is it your alarm clock, a job you have to show up to, or a laundry list of obligations? Is it a sense of duty for loved ones or being a part of a larger cause?
Multiple studies suggest that having a sense of purpose in life is a major factor in healthfulness and longevity.
The best part? It doesn’t matter how old you are––finding your sense of purpose can increase your chances of a long and healthy life, regardless of when you start.
Many of us check off the boxes when it comes to our health: vitamins, doctor’s appointments, healthy food, exercise––but it’s interesting to note that these factors are underscored by something far less tangible than what we typically have in mind: having a sense of purpose.
This article outlines key takeaways from one study, along with a few tips for cultivating your purpose in life for a longer, healthier and more fulfilled existence.
Purpose in Life: The Study
Over a 14 year period, researchers analyzed data from 6,000 participants. Each of the participants self-reported their feelings of direction, purpose, and other psychosocial variables measuring their relationships and experiences of positive and negative emotions.
At the conclusion of the study, greater purpose in life consistently corresponded with a longer lifespan across all age groups. The 569 participants who died during the 14-year span consistently reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relationships than survivors.
“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 Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada.
How Purpose in Life Increases Longevity
Researchers suspect that a few different factors explain the correlation between a sense of purpose and a longer, healthier life.
First, when someone feels positive and excited about their life, they are more likely to care for it. Healthy habits and behaviors like mindful eating, exercise, and proper hygiene can increase with a stronger sense of purpose and direction in life. Further, if living a long, healthy life is the goal, people will be more likely to choose behaviors to support that goal, rather than putting it at risk.
Secondly, having a sense of purpose in life can lower stress and anxiety. Having a larger goal in life can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and derailed by smaller daily stressors, and it can also improve emotional recovery when things go wrong. On the other hand, chronic stress has been proven to lower immune functions, which can make the body more vulnerable to illness and slower healing.
How Do You Know If You Have Enough Purpose in Life?
There is no definitive test to determine if you feel enough purpose in life, and it’s important to note that the feeling of purpose can vary at different points in your life.
Some would say, “When you know, you know.”
A sense of purpose in life can feel like a greater sense of excitement, satisfaction, and exhilaration when you wake up in the morning. You might feel a heightened sense of creativity, connection, and willingness to give. Feeling like you are in alignment with your higher purpose can also offer a great deal of confidence. Ultimately, a sense of purpose is a feeling, rather than a set of conditions.
If the question of purpose provokes a sense of uneasiness or inquisitiveness, it could signify a great opportunity to spend time reconnecting with what makes you feel deeply fulfilled.
How to Find Your Sense of Purpose in Life
For many people, having a sense of purpose in life can look as simple as caring for others. Whether it’s your own children, a partner, a parent, or people with disabilities, there is no hierarchy in caring for others, nor in the positive effects it can have on your life. It can be a relationship with one person, or with many.
Your purpose in life doesn’t have to be a big, elaborate, external cause. In fact, when we try to scale our positive intentions, we can become disconnected from our original source of purpose.
There’s a story about John F. Kennedy visiting the NASA space center in 1962. He noticed a janitor carrying a broom and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” The janitor responded, “Well Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
We can all learn something from this janitor, and from countless others who find meaning in what’s in front of them, rather than spending years searching for it.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself To Find Your Purpose in Life
For some people, their life’s purpose is clear. Others might have a more inquisitive nature, and it might not seem that obvious. Others still might be disconnected from their purpose, and have forgotten what makes them feel most alive.
Keep in mind that your purpose in life is intangible––it can change its shape over time, and it does not need to be affiliated with an official title or career choice. For instance, if you enjoy sharing words that uplift and inspire others, you don’t necessarily need to quit your job and become a poet in order to live out your purpose. Instead, you could consider bringing that part of yourself–– sharing words with others–– into everything you do. Ultimately, it can be helpful to think of living your purpose in terms of integrating what you love with what you do.
Below are 5 questions to ask yourself if you are struggling to find your purpose.
1. I think my gift to the world is _____________________________________________.
2. The most memorable part of my life’s journey has been ________________________.
3. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved to ________________________________________.
4. _______________________________________________ makes me feel most alive.
5. My truth is ___________________________________________________________.
So, what moves you?
What makes your spirit sing?
It could be painting, volunteering with your local high school basketball team, cooking, rock climbing, or leading a team at work. It could be one thing today and something different tomorrow. Connecting with your purpose can take on many different forms throughout your life.
The important thing is to pay attention to what brings you feelings of joy and purpose, and then create space for more of it in your schedule.
Ultimately, having a sense of purpose is not about what you do, but how you do it.
Want more research-based health and longevity tips? Explore the TelMD Upstream Blog.
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