Our society puts a lot of emphasis on physical health. Everywhere you turn, there's information about how to take care of your body. But what about the more intangible aspects of health, like your outlook on life?
A recent meta-study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health looked at the impact of having a “higher purpose” can have on health. Some 136,265 people participated in 10 different studies, mostly in the United States and Japan.
A significant association was detected between having a higher purpose in life and reduced mortality from all causes and specifically from cardiovascular disease. The participants were 67 years old, on average, at the beginning of the studies, and they were followed for seven years. During that time, more than 14,500 of them died and more than 4,000 suffered cardiovascular events such as strokes or heart attacks.
Analysis of the data, which includes adjustments for other known factors (like did the participants smoke?) showed that a higher sense of purpose was linked to a reduction of about 20 percent in mortality from all causes, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. This is a significant difference, and this knowledge should encourage us to help people find their purpose. It’s not just nice to have one — it can actually save lives.
"Having a strong sense of life purpose has long been postulated to be an important dimension of life, providing people with a sense of vitality motivation and resilience," said Dr. Alan Rozanski, one of the authors of the study and part of the research team at Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. "Nevertheless, the medical implications of living with a high or low sense of life purpose have only recently caught the attention of investigators. The current findings are important because they may open up new potential interventions for helping people to promote their health and sense of well-being."
This study only looked to see if there was a link between a higher sense of purpose and longevity. Now that it has found one, more studies will be required to find out how exactly this works both psychologically and physiologically. It makes intuitive sense that someone who finds that their life has purpose might not be as stressed out (which is definitely bad for you) and will probably lead a healthier lifestyle, but that remains to be demonstrated in a scientific way. Sometimes reality is counter-intuitive. Maybe there are surprising ways the relationship between a sense of higher purpose and health interact.
So in the meantime, keep looking for your purpose!