Beginning in 1994-95, more than six thousand people aged between twenty and seventy were given a survey to asses whether or not they had a sense of purpose in their lives. They were then followed over the next fourteen years. Nearly six hundred and seventy of them people died during this period. Those who died scored lower on purpose in life compared to the rest of the six thousand plus people in the study. While other studies have already shown that purpose in life is a predictor of longevity, this study, led by Professor Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada, indicates that even young people with purpose in life are less likely to die than their purposeless peers.
Ever since Viktor Frankl wrote his mega bestseller Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946 psychologists have been aware that meaning and purpose in life are vital aspects of human well-being and flourishing. Humans have known this intuitively since time immemorial. In the past few years social scientists have begun to build an impressive body of empirical evidence proving the critical role meaning and purpose plays in the ability to live a long and healthy life both psychologically and physically.
We now know that purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks, obesity, depression and a host of other physical and psychological pathologies. We don’t, however, yet have clarity in how propose protects us against these diseases or how it causes longevity. There are numerous theories including many that have physiological components to them but no definitive reasons yet.
Researchers are also working on understanding how people become purposeful and why is it that some people find a life purpose while others go through life unmoored. This is a problem that I have been working on for the last six years. Having worked with over a thousand people many of them one-on-one to help them discover their life purpose and having studied the field, I offer you some some tips to help you find your purpose.
First change your mindset. Instead of thinking about how much money you can make or the level of prestige you want from a job, start to look at your job as an outgrowth of your calling or purpose in life. Money and respectability will all ring hollow if you don’t gain personal satisfaction from your career. With 80% of Americans finding their career unsatisfying this turns out to be very important.
It is also important to make goals and plans to reach those goals. We become purposeful when we have a goal to reach and we have plans to reach those goals. Even if those goals do not represent our “real” passion in life just by having them and making gains towards them regularly you will add a sense of purpose to your life. A final tip is to think about purpose. Spend time regularly thinking about whether you are purposeful or whether you are living your purpose. Just by doing this you will find yourself becoming more purposeful. Given that purpose will add years on to your life and make you happier and healthier, this is important stuff.
Levi Brackman is founder of Purposes Inc. and creator of a scientifically proven online purpose finding tool Next Stage Purpose. He is currently doing a Phd focused on learning how people can develop purpose and meaning in life. He is also a rabbi and an author.