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How to add meaning to your life

How to add meaning to your life

Most of us have moments when we overreact. It can happen in meetings, in one-on-one conversations, over email, and in personal relationships.

Sometimes we just cannot help ourselves–but there is always a price to pay.

When you find yourself saying things you never thought you’d say, or taking things too personally even though you know better, when you allow your feelings to determine your state of mind, that’s when you get into trouble.

The trick to avoiding overreaction is to refocus on what you really want instead of letting your reactions getting the best out of you. Here are some tools to help.

1. Let your body do the thinking.

Reacting comes out of anger and disappointment; responding comes out of awareness and understanding. If you can stay connected to how you feel and what your body is telling you, you can quiet your reaction and allow a more reasoned response to take its place.

2. Create a life with a different view.

Overreactions are generally disproportional to the problem, and we become more likely to escalate what is happening to become complex and filled with conflict. Instead, remember that everything contains different perspectives, depending on where you stand and what you look at. From a different angle, things may look very different.

3. Take back control before you lose control.

Overreactions generally involve feeling a loss of control. When that happens, we tend to cast ourselves as the victim, at the mercy of others–in short, we give away our power. Instead, you can choose to take back your control by being responsible for your feelings and accountable for your actions, behavior and thoughts.

4. Expect nothing and appreciate everything.

When expectations aren’t met and we become unhappy or even bitter, we turn assumptions into premeditated resentments. Expectations are often more based on wishes than reality, and assumptions are often self-centered, not taking into account the needs or feelings of others. When you can recognize these patterns, it becomes much easier to consider other perspectives and the possibility of different outcomes instead of holding on to your assumptions. When you expect nothing you can learn to appreciate all that you have.

5. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it work.

Don’t get caught up in any moment that isn’t working for you. Sometimes when we are upset, angry or disappointed, we forget to breathe or take care of ourselves. We allow our reactions to grow bigger and bigger until they surpass everything else. When you are you are busy reacting you cannot respond to your own needs. So the next time you are angry, upset and irritated, remember to stop and take care of yourself before you break down.

6. Keep letting it go until you are done.

At any time we can choose to hold on or to let go. It’s OK to say “This bothers me,” but it’s another to let it take hold of you. It’s not always easy, but sometimes you have to let something go and keep it away. And the truth is that however many times it comes back to your thoughts, that’s how many times you can let it go. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not easy–just remind yourself that you can let go as many times as you feel you need to. Each time you begin again until you feel you have let it go completely.

Managing our reactions can help us respond better to our lives, leadership and living.

N A T I O N A L B E S T S E L L E R

THE LEADERSHIP GAP

What Gets Between You and Your GreatnessHow to add meaning to your life

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

Additional Reading you might enjoy:

  • 12 Successful Leadership Principles That Never Grow Old
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  • 4 Proven Reasons Why Intuitive Leaders Make Great Leaders
  • The One Quality Every Leader Needs To Succeed
  • The Deception Trap of Leadership

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

The everyday work grind can sometimes feel like, well, a bit of a grind. So, when your enthusiasm flags and every day feels as blah as the one that came before, how can you find ways to add meaning to your day, much less your life or career?

Share spaced, shared values

Even if your own zest for life seems to be lacking, sharing a work space with people who are on a similar mission might help buoy you up when you’d otherwise be bummed. “Working on something you believe in and surrounding yourself with people who share your values will always provide meaning and purpose to whatever you choose to do in life, especially when it comes to your career,” said Max Spielberg, co-founder and President of Genexa. In his own work life, Spielberg firmly believes “business should be used as a force for good and that’s what keeps us coming into work every day.”

Scare yourself a little

After almost a decade running an outdoor retailer in Canada, Jamie Clarke became frustrated at how inaccessible and expensive quality gear had become to the average consumer. Along with a partner, Clarke launched LiveOutThere.com, a direct-to-consumer outerwear brand. “Transforming our business into a direct-to-consumer offering was as much about sound business as it was about infusing more meaning into our work day at every level,” he said. “Our work is more urgent, more meaningful and more important now that we are responsible for the entire supplier chain. We dream up our products, manufacture them, and make them available to our customers. We own and are responsible for every step of the value chain. It’s scary, but I love it. We’ve never been more engaged or passionate about our mission than we are now.”

Have a big mission

Many businesses have internal and external marketing messages as well as a mission that guides their everyday path. As Clarke explained it “Everything comes back to our mission to: Get the World Outside. When we remember that people who spend time outside are happier, healthier and more creative and that our products and knowledge helps make this happen — challenges, setback, rejections all seem a little smaller because our mission is so big. So important.” For Clarke, it’s as much a vision and mission as a business: “This is not just about making money — it’s about saving and improving lives. When we remember this — nothing can stop us.”

Make someone happy

Sometimes finding your path toward a more meaningful career can take a circuitous trajectory. Melissa Ben-Ishay, founder, president and Chief Product officer of Baked by Melissa, started her booming business after being unexpectedly fired from her advertising job.

“I did not think I was being fired when I was called to HR over the loudspeaker. I actually thought I could have been up for a promotion! Needless to say, I was shocked” Ben-Ishay admitted. In the days after, she thought it was completely unjustified. “I regained confidence by surrounding myself with people who love and support me and working hard towards something I love and am super passionate about – Baked by Melissa.”

More than that, Ben-Ishay realized she could combine her career and her passion with an end result of adding joy to people’s lives. “I started baking cupcakes long before we started Baked By Melissa for that very reason — they make people happy! That’s why I kept baking them — giving cupcakes to someone and seeing their happiness is the very best feeling.”

And she turned that into the overall company ethos: “We know the most successful people are happy and passionate about what they are doing every day. We hire like-minded, hardworking, passionate people who love to get s–t done and that’s what makes our team so amazing.”

Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.

Siri Berting / Blend Images / Getty Images

If you feel lost or unhappy with how your life is playing out, the first step is to start thinking about what you value in life. Going through the process of identifying these core values can empower you to live a life full of meaning and purpose—sometimes referred to as "living intentionally."

What follows is a mental exercise that is adapted from a popular acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) exercise   to help you discover your core values and live a purpose-driven and meaningful life. Though this exercise doesn’t take long to complete, if done properly, it can have long-lasting effects in helping you to live a life full of meaning.

Identify Your Core Values

Your core values are those things that are really important and meaningful to you. They are the characteristics and behaviors that motivate you and guide your decisions.

When the way you behave matches your values, life feels full of meaning and purpose. When these two don’t align, you’re likely to feel dissatisfied with life. This is why it is so important to identify your values.

Your values are influenced by your life experiences and are, therefore, unique to you. There are hundreds of different values, but here is a list of some of the most common ones:  

  • Community participation
  • Health/physical well-being
  • Family relationships
  • Friendships and other social relationships
  • Intimate relationships (e.g., marriage, couples)
  • Parenting
  • Personal growth/education/learning
  • Leisure/recreation
  • Spirituality/religion
  • Work/career

Write down every value that resonates with you. Feel free to add your own if your value doesn't appear on the list above.

Be sure to only select values you actually have, not those you wish you had.

Rate Your Values

Once you have come up with your list, the next step is to prioritize the values. Take a look deep inside yourself before ranking each of your values in order of their current importance to you: 0 (not important), 1 (moderately important), or 2 (extremely important).

As you move through life, what you value may change. Or, if your values stay the same, the importance you place on them may shift. For example, when you start college, “personal growth” might be a top priority. But after you have a family, “parenting” may be what you value more.

Ranking your values in order of importance helps you to ensure that you're spending your time and energy on the most important things in your life.

Set Your Intentions

After completing your ratings, pick one or two values that you rated as "extremely important." If you rated every value as "extremely important," go back and think about whether there are one or two values that stand out as more important than the rest, even if it's only by a little bit.

Write a simple statement (one or two sentences) about how you would like to live your life in each of these areas. These statements, which are called intention statements, will help you live a more purposeful life according to your values.

Consider the following examples of intention statements:

  • Work/career: "I want to fully apply myself at work and contribute my best."
  • Health/physical self-care: "I want to live with full vitality and energy every day."
  • Intimate relationships: "I would like to be a kind and caring partner. I would like to say supportive things to my partner when they are feeling down, and I would like to do things for them that will help make their life a little easier. I would also like to act as if I am worthwhile in relationships by asking for the things I need.”

As you can see from these examples, intentions are an ongoing process. They reflect the way you want to live your life over time. They are not just something that can be achieved or "crossed off" your list.

In order for this exercise to work, you have to be completely honest with yourself. Get in touch with your true intentions, not the intentions others have for you.

A Word From Verywell

Discovering your purpose and living life according to your values is no simple feat. It takes work and is not likely to happen overnight. Be patient and give yourself time to figure out what you value, and adjust your actions accordingly.

If you are struggling with this exercise, consider seeing a therapist that practices ACT. A therapist can help you define your values and pinpoint any psychological barriers that are preventing you from living a life with meaning and value.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares what it means to be ‘wholly human,’ featuring GRAMMY award-winning singer LeAnn Rimes.

Having meaning and purpose in life decreases suicidal thoughts and depression.

How to add meaning to your life

Seeking happiness for purely happiness’ sake can be fleeting and disappointing. It’s having meaning and purpose in life that leads to happiness. Read on to discover the four factors that make up meaning and happiness in life.

While purpose and happiness are distinctly different concepts, feeling a sense of meaning in your life can be a key factor in experiencing happiness (Kauppinen, 2013).

First, the concept of happiness changes as we age. When we are younger, we associate happiness with excitement—and as we get older, we associate happiness with peace (Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker, 2011). This may happen because we tend to shift our focus from the future to the present as we age (Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker, 2011).

How does meaning and purpose impact us? Heisel and Flett (2014) found having meaning in life was found to significantly decrease suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms in older adults.

So what makes up “purpose and meaning” in life? According to Drageset, Haugan, and Tranvåg (2017), there are four main experiences that encourage meaning and purpose in life:

  • Physical and mental well-being
  • Belonging and recognition
  • Personally treasured activities
  • Spiritual closeness and connectedness

Physical and mental well-being means not just taking good care of your body; it means taking care of your mind. This can be achieved, in part, through stress-reduction techniques and positive thinking and expectations.

Belonging and recognition refers to feeling valued and validated, and feeling like others “get” you.

Personally treasured activities are things you do that make you feel good – hobbies, spending time with your grandchildren—things that you do where it feels like you are in the moment and time flies by.

Spiritual closeness and connectedness can happen even if you do not have a religious practice. While religion can be part of spirituality, spirituality goes beyond religion. Spiritual closeness and connectedness is a feeling that all living things in the world are interrelated.

You may be wondering what truly gives your life meaning. The truth is, what gives our lives purpose and meaning changes over time. It particularly changes after a big life event or crisis. Some self-reflection is a good way to start discovering what truly matters to you.

A book I recommend to clients, particularly after a change in life circumstances, is Carol Adrienne’s paperback Find Your Purpose, Change Your Life: Getting to the Heart of Your Life’s Mission (2001). It is a workbook that helps you discover your values in life – in other words, what gives your life meaning. From there, you explore what you would like to see become of your life. I have worked with clients that went from feeling stuck to feeling a renewed sense of purpose from working through the book.

May your life be filled with meaning and purpose.

Adrienne, C. (2001). Find your purpose, change your life: Getting to the heart of your life’s mission. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks.

Drageset, J., Haugan, G., & Tranvåg, O. (2017). Crucial aspects promoting meaning and purpose in life: perceptions of nursing home residents. BMC geriatrics, 17(1), 254.

Heisel, M. J., & Flett, G. L. (2014). Do meaning in life and purpose in life protect against suicide ideation among community-residing older adults?. In Meaning in positive and existential psychology (pp. 303-324). New York: Springer.

Kauppinen, A. (2013). Meaning and happiness. Philosophical Topics, 41(1), 161-185.

Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S. D., & Aaker, J. (2011). The shifting meaning of happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 395-402.

How to add meaning to your life

The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.

What is the meaning of life?

That’s for you to decide, you get to choose.

Instead of going through life without meaning only struggling to survive, stop along the way and begin to notice things around you, begin doing things because you want to do them not because you have to.

Here are some possibilities of things you can do to give your life meaning, or even simply get you started on a new journey.

15 Ways to Bring Meaning Back into Your Life

1. Be Happy

Being happy is a choice it comes from the inside out, you don’t need to be happy because of a certain outcome or something you have received but be happy because you are alive. It takes practice believe me, but you can learn to be happy each day by simply being grateful.

2. Show Up

How are you showing up each day? Are you just letting life happen or are you creating life and taking action on the things that will make your life the way you want it to be? Think about it.

3. Follow your heart

Do what you love to do and do it often. What feels right to you IS right for you.

4. Find a new perspective

Begin to look at things differently. Is what you have previously being told and taught the truth? Question everything, that’s what I say take the frame away from what you see and change the perspective, this alone could change your life!

5. Have a sense of wonder

Children are the classic example they ‘wonder’ about everything. The ask lots of questions and want to know why. If they don’t like the answer they make their own ideas up about something.

6. Find people you love

People you look up to people who share the same passions, ideas and hobbies as you. This could simply be your friends. Plan to spend some time with them and do something.

7. Set goals

Where are you heading in life? Are you drifting with the rest of the world? At the very least have some Idea what you want to achieve.

8. Help others

Do for others what you want for yourself.

Helping someone else will give you a feeling of satisfaction and worthiness. Besides we all could do with a helping hand at times. Be that person.

9. Dance

10. Pamper yourself

When was the last time you went all out on yourself? I’m not talking about while you was on holiday. I’m talking about doing something tonight. OK, you don’t have to go all out but do one thing today that even mildly represents a form of pampering. You will be glad that you did.

11. Face your fears

Easier said than done, I know, but I’m hoping to give you some inspiration. Here goes.

Just DO IT Already. One way to overcome something is to do it.

12. Go to a museum

Get out and about go do something. Learn something new, something you didn’t know before. When was the last time you went to a museum, with school?

13. Exercise

You may have heard it said before that exercise releases ‘happy hormones’ that reduce stress. Exercise is a way to keep fit and healthy lengthening your life span. It doesn’t have to be ‘at the gym’ you could go for a walk, jog, ride a bike or even by using the stairs in your house!

14. Limit TV

Find something else to do. Read a book. Play a game with your children. Get creative. Use the time you would normally watch TV to start a business or grow the one you already have.

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has a purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”

15. Get in touch with nature

Take a walk, go to the park. Listen to the birds in the morning, look at the flowers, trees and the abundance that is all around us.

You don’t need to do all of these to experience the life you only need to pick the one that is the most relevant to you right now and go do that. Just one thing. Often we think we need to do more but we don’t if I said go do all 30 things now you wouldn’t do any of them!

Which one resonates with you now at this moment in your life? You can share your insights by commenting below.

How to add meaning to your life

Every human is aware of the various stages of their lives. They are born as infants, grow up to be teenagers, evolve into adults, and perish as they grow old. While the aspects of life are not as significant or clear to children and teenagers, every adult has various facets of their life that they must cater to. Ignoring any of these aspects or not knowing about them may disbalance the harmony of life.

An imperative reason behind knowing these phases of life is to empower ourselves. When you know and take full control of these aspects of life, you become capable of optimizing your life. In simple terms, optimization of your life refers to your ability to live it to the fullest.

Aspects of Life Meaning

Simply put, the aspects of life consist of the various phases of your life that you manage every day. These phases are –

  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Financial

Disrupting any one of these five crucial aspects of life can and will leave your life crippled. And, disruption can happen at any time if you ignore or are unaware of the importance of these phases. On the other hand, having a thorough knowledge of these different sections of your life gives you a detailed insight into your own life. Additionally, it helps you determine those areas of your life that require more work and effort than the others.

How to add meaning to your life

But, why do you need to know about these aspects? What happens if you let life be as it is?

What happens if we don’t pay attention to the Aspects of Life?

Honestly, if you do not pay attention to your life, or any of its aspects, you would be miserable. It may not happen instantly; it may not even happen for a few years. But, when it does, you will regret not taking care of your life as well as you should have. Let us look at a few situations you may find yourself into if you were to ignore the various aspects of life:

Mental

If you ignored your mental well-being, you could suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. In the worst cases, you could develop critical mental illnesses born out of mental health issues.

Emotional

People who do not pay attention to their emotional aspect of life/emotions or feelings often end up with serious insecurities, abandonment and neglect issues, inability to hold relationships, unexplained emotional outbursts, and so on. They can also have psychological breakdowns. Most suicide cases are a result of unstable emotions.

Physical

We all know what happens when you ignore your physical well-being. From lack of confidence to numerous short- and long-term diseases, lack of physical well-being can damage the quality of your life massively.

Social

Humans were created to be social beings. This means that we need to live and act according to the norms of society. Acting according to your society doesn’t involve blindly following them, but to behave in a certain way to maintain a cordial relationship with those around you. Lack of this aspect can make others isolate you. It can cost you’re your relationships with friends, acquaintances, as well as at work.

Financial

This aspect is perhaps one of the most crucial ones. And, it is because if your finances are not in your control, you are bound to be stressed. And, financial duress has the ability to affect all other aspects too.

NOTE
There are more than just five aspects of life. However, every aspect that you can think of can be classified into one of the above-mentioned categories. For instance, personal aspects as well as your friends and household aspects can fall under mental, emotional, and social.

How to balance the five aspects of life?

By now, we understand that maintaining all the aspects are not only important to have a good, stable life but also to live it to the most. And, so, it is important that we do our best to keep all the aspects balanced. Here are a few steps you can follow to live a balanced life:

  • Take breaks and timeouts when you feel stressed.
  • Talk to friends and loved ones about anything that is bothering you.
  • Build a workout or a yoga regime – walking 15 mins every day can also be good for your physical as well as mental health.
  • Develop a hobby (if you don’t have one) – gardening, painting, reading, and so on. Try to find something that inspires you.
  • Spend valuable time with your friends and family. Take the time to go out with them every now and then. Show them how much you love and appreciate them.
  • Eat healthily and take care of meals and sleep timings.
  • Keep a track of your expenses and have savings for emergency situations.
  • Use a productivity app or tool to keep your workdays organized.
  • Be true to yourself and take a deeper look within to know what needs to be improved.
  • Most of all, don’t do anything that makes you unhappy (not even for the sake of it).

TIP
There are several different ways to improve the quality of your life and bring harmony. For some, seeking a spiritual path brings balance and harmony. And, for others, achieving something they have dreamt of does the trick. Before you decide to fix your life, take a journal and write down all the aspects of it so you know what to fix.

Bonus Tip

Check out video of “How to explore every aspect of life” by an Indian mystic Sadhguru.

How to add meaning to your life Way of life

How to add meaning to your life

As a Libra, my sign is the scale, which signifies balance. I’m not sure how much my “signage” plays into my desire to live a balanced life, but I do know that the more balanced I feel, the more free I feel.

In my work I am often reminded that what works for some people does not necessarily work for others, and that one person’s idea of balance may not constitute anything remotely balanced from another person’s perspective.

So I wanted to address the various elements of life that can require balancing and offer some suggestions to find the mix that works best for you.

To start, what does it mean to be balanced?

To me, it means that you have a handle on the the various elements in your life and don’t feel that your heart or mind are being pulled too hard in any direction. More often than not, you feel calm, grounded, clear-headed, and motivated.

How do you find your balance?

The elements in life that require the most balancing can be divided into two categories: internal and external. Oftentimes, people focus on one more than the other.

For example, you may find that you focus on external things, like work, relationships, and activities, and that you pay very little attention to what is going on inside your heart and mind.

On the other hand, you may find that you spend so much time being self reflective that you sometimes miss out on the experience of living.

Other people may be fairly balanced between the two but might want to balance out some specific elements within each category, so I created this little outline to help us better understand the beneficial components on both ends of each spectrum.

Internal (Mind, Heart, Health)

  • Mind: Challenging yourself intellectually vs. creating opportunities for your mind to rest
  • Heart: Giving love vs. receiving love
  • Health: Eating, drinking, exercising properly vs. resting. and treating yourself to some extra yummies

External (Work, Social, Family, Fun)

  • Work: Pushing yourself to achieve goals vs. seeing the bigger picture and enjoying the ride
  • Social: Satisfying your social desires vs. taking time for yourself
  • Family: Fulfilling your familial responsibilities vs. creating healthy boundaries
  • Fun: Allocating time for things you enjoy doing vs. making sure you don’t overdo it

As you can see, both ends of each spectrum are actually positive; but if either side is taken to an extreme, something that is intended to be positive can end up being detrimental.

It’s helpful to check in with yourself to see if you feel balanced.

If you feel pulled in any one direction and uneasy about it, these steps may help you get your life aligned:

1. Acknowledge.

Take some time to really look at your life, your state of mind, and how you’re feeling. Be honest with yourself and notice the areas of your life that you’re neglecting.

2. Examine.

Notice if you’re leaning more toward an internal or external focus, or if there are areas within each category that you would like to be more balanced.

3. Set Goals.

Look at the outline to help you decide which ways you want to balance your life. Make a list.

4. Plan Tasks.

Make a list of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that you will need to do to achieve each of these goals. What have you tried in the past? Did it work? If not, what can you do differently?

5. Reflect.

What is the most important thing you’ve accomplished in the past? How did you stay focused toward this goal? How did you handle your fears, doubts, anxieties, worries, and negative self-talk? How does it feel to know that you accomplished the goal in spite of these parts of yourself?

6. Prepare.

What is your inner “stuff” that will try to keep you from sticking to your plan (fears, worries, doubts, negative self talk)? Can you specify the things you will say to yourself to push you off track? (For example: “Just one more bite, I’ll start eating better tomorrow.”) Make a list.

7. Empower.

What do you need to remember in those times? What are things you can say to that self-sabotaging part of yourself? Be kind to yourself. Balance won’t feel good if you’re cruel to yourself in creating it!

8. Connect.

Is there a person or a tactic you can use to keep yourself supported, motivated, and focused in those hard times? I highly recommend connecting and sharing your inner process with someone. Find someone who can help you challenge your inner demons, and celebrate your little accomplishments.

Just like accomplishing any goal in life, it takes time and effort to overcome your habitual patterns and create new ones. If you stay on track with this detailed and intentional process for three whole months, then there is a good chance you will create new habits to enjoy a more balanced life going forward!

Okinawans call it ikigai or “reason for being.” Costa Ricans call it “plan de vida.” Most commonly, though, it’s simply referred to as your life’s purpose. In the blue zones regions of the world, purpose has always played a major role in well-being and the resulting extreme longevity. It’s also believed that the strong sense of purpose possessed by older Okinawans may act as a buffer against stress and help reduce overall inflammation, in turn lowering chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and stroke. There continues to be a growing body of research to support the impact of purpose on mental and physical health and how it can lead to longer life expectancy.

Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, estimated that an ability to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy. Dr. Butler and collaborators led an NIH-funded study in 2014 that looked at the correlation between having a sense of purpose and longevity. His study found that individuals who expressed a clear goal in life—something to get up for in the morning, something that made a difference—lived longer and were sharper than those who did not.

A more recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked a strong sense of purpose with a lower risk of all-cause mortality after age 50. The study followed about 7,000 adults over the age of 50. The participants were interviewed using a questionnaire to rank their life purpose. Researchers assigned life-purpose scores based on participants’ responses and followed up with them five years later. They found that participants who had the lowest life-purpose scores were twice as likely to have died than those with the highest scores.

While this recent study was based on correlative data, there is evidence to suggest that having a strong sense of purpose can impact health and longevity for the long haul.

Finding Your Purpose

Finding your sense of purpose doesn’t necessarily have to be through your career. It could be found in your hobbies, the volunteer organizations to which you donate your time, the garden in your backyard, or watching your grandchildren grow up. If you’re still looking to find purpose and need an extra boost, take The Purpose Checkup and join the Blue Zones Life Challenge where you will learn how to put your newfound purpose to work.

Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development, says lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada:

“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 Hill. “So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.”

How to add meaning to your life

Previous studies have suggested that finding a purpose in life lowers risk of mortality above and beyond other factors that are known to predict longevity.

But, Hill points out, almost no research examined whether the benefits of purpose vary over time, such as across different developmental periods or after important life transitions.

Hill and colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center decided to explore this question, taking advantage of the nationally representative data available from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study.

The researchers looked at data from over 6000 participants, focusing on their self-reported purpose in life (e.g., “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them”) and other psychosocial variables that gauged their positive relations with others and their experience of positive and negative emotions.

Over the 14-year follow-up period represented in the MIDUS data, 569 of the participants had died (about 9% of the sample). Those who had died had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period.

This consistency came as a surprise to the researchers:

“There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones,” says Hill. “For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events. In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.”

“To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct,” he explains.

Purpose had similar benefits for adults regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And the longevity benefits of purpose in life held even after other indicators of psychological well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account.

“These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.

The researchers are currently investigating whether having a purpose might lead people to adopt healthier lifestyles, thereby boosting longevity.

Hill and Turiano are also interested in examining whether their findings hold for outcomes other than mortality.

“In so doing, we can better understand the value of finding a purpose throughout the lifespan, and whether it provides different benefits for different people,” Hill concludes.

Preparation of the manuscript was supported through funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant T32-MH018911-23), and the data collection was supported by Grant P01-AG020166 from the National Institute on Aging.

Comments

I have always been driven. I retired at 62, completed my BA at at 69 and was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at 70. I am almost 72. I sense that if I don’t find purpose for my life I will fade and be gone. I feel that the key to my longevity is my enthusiasm for life. I don’t have all of the answers, but it is becoming clearer..

As long as a man is driven, he will never be pondering upon the existence of life.

There are many reasons for a man to be driven towards attaining a goal. But many people tend to loose that drive when they get old and that’s when they loose their purpose.

We all share a common destination called DEATH and each one of us travels this path in their own unique ways.

Its the drive that makes a man alive by thwarting the thought of ‘death’. If one thinks that he will die one day, he may loose interest in the life. He may question why should he do something when he is destined to fade someday in future. Its the drive/desire/dreams that is making all of us transcend through time.

I too am driven, more so now in my forties and early fifties than I ever was previously. Similar to others, I completed my BA in counselling and psychotherapy at 50-51 years old, and am now part way through an advanced masters in the same, considering the options for a PhD at 53 maybe..
Just recently it occurred to me whilst researching for an assignment that being driven (for some) might go hand in hand with the benefits of distraction of our ever closing proximity to our inevitable exit.
I wonder if, for as long as we are ‘busy’ do we subconsciously seek to convince ourselves that death will be outrun by our busyness?
Irvin Yalom writes beautifully on this subject for anyone who is interested x