A recent survey of 9781 older men and women from an English longitudinal study 1 were followed up after 10 years.
It was found that people with a higher affective well-being and enjoyment of life not only lived longer but also spent a greater proportion of additional years in good health without chronic disease or disability.
Affective well-being is related to enjoyment of life and a lack of significant depressive symptoms and the survey defined enjoyment of life in statements such as:
“I enjoy the things I do”; “I enjoy being in the company of others”; “On balance I look back on my life with a sense of happiness”; “I feel full of energy these days”
The researchers went on to look at what might link a strong sense of well being with life expectancy and noticed differences in lifestyle.
Having a healthy lifestyle that included more physical activity; less smoking; more sleep; more use of preventative health services was found to help postpone the onset of disability and reduced risk of chronic physical ill-health.
In this study researchers also noted a range of biological changes in subjects associated with feelings of well-being. Lower cortisol (stress hormone) output; reduced inflammatory cytokines; higher antioxidant levels were processes found to not only protect against increased disability but also to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc. over time.
The researchers concluded that people who experience a strong feeling of well-being and purpose may not only live longer but also healthier lives than people who do not share these feelings. They also postulated that if we can increase well-being and the time that a person feels in good health then we could in turn reduce the cost of health care and the demand on hospital and primary core services. We could reduce suffering in our community.
While there might be physical benefits from having a purposeful life what about the mental health advantages?
What drives and maintains a sense of purpose?
Steve Taylor PhD Senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University notes some of the mental health benefits of having a purposeful life 3:
A point of motivation
While it can be hard to get up some mornings, shower and have breakfast and go to work. A strong sense of purpose means we seldom ask “whats the point of this”? With a life purpose we always have a reason for what we do.
Sometimes we lose direction in life e.g.change job, lose performance, near retirement; feel unhappy with career or work choices. We may feel we are not where we are meant to be and feel confused and disoriented. Having a sense of purpose means we have a stronger sense of where we are heading.
A sense of purpose enables us to overcome challenges and difficulties, gives us determination and endurance amidst the hardship and suffering.
Purpose gives optimism, hope and offers resistance to feelings of anxiety, depression, boredom and frustration
Finding a purpose in life
Irrespective of our age even the most centred person that we know will have days riddled with doubt and loss of purpose. So where should we look if a sense of purpose is failing us?
For many people having time to think about having a purpose in life is a luxury they don’t have. Just providing for their own needs and that of their family’s is purpose enough in life. Maslow’s theory of motivation4 based on our human hierarchy of needs (although dated) does sum up this notion of life purpose pretty well. In 1943 he postulated that humans have five basic levels of need which he later expanded to 8 levels by 1970.
- Physiological i.e the need for food, water,warmth and rest
- Safety and security
- Psychological needs, a feeling of belonging and love, e.g. intimate relationships and friends
- Self esteem i.e feelings of accomplishment and prestige
- Cognitive needs to learn and understand
- Aesthetic needs to appreciate beauty, balance and form
- Self fulfilment, self actualization in being able to achieve ones full potential.
- Transcendence. People are motivated by values that transcend beyond the needs of the personal self such as having more experiences of nature and the environment, sexual experience, service to others or pursuit of science, religion etc.
Maslow postulated that people spend most of their lives trying to achieve satisfaction of the first four levels of need which once achieved allowed them to grow into the final level of self accomplishment. He later noted that people tend to move back and forth as life changes e.g. divorce or death of a friend or spouse may result in earlier basic needs like security taking precedence over being able to reach ones full potential.
American researcher Aliya Alimujuang and colleagues who have also studied the power of purpose noted that one’s sense of purpose can be heightened through psychotherapy, meditation and/or engaging in selfless acts such as volunteering and meaningful work.
Other’s who build their businesses on motivating people 5, 6 have postulated that a purposeful life can be found when we:
- Explore the things we love to do, our talents and the skills that come easily and align these things with our daily lives.
- Follow our heart, listen to what feels right for us by recalling the things that have bought us the most joy in the past.
- Try to align our core values with where we would most like to be.
- Don’t rely on praise from others to determine our own self-worth. Use doubt as a motivator for growth.
- Stop multi-tasking, focus on one thing at a time
- Be of service to others. Rather than living from a place of fear and selfishness, live for a place of connection and inclusivity
- Make changes right now. Don’t wait for tomorrow.
What about ‘purposeful’ eating?
It’s easy to make lifestyle changes when you have a clear purpose such as losing or gaining weight to gain selection into a sports team; to have a baby; fit a swimsuit or have an operation. However maintaining this sense of purpose can become harder over time and ‘real life’ hardship.
This is where my empowerment coaching method comes in. Eating well provides the energy to have a life, to fulfill ones purpose (what ever that may be) and to limit the development of chronic disease that can curtail your freedom of choice, limit your life direction and erode your personal power and joy.
If you would like to learn more about finding the energy to pursue your purpose in life then contact me today.
More articles by Lea on similar topics:
Our ‘Attitude’ is the key to better health
Unlock your potential with food
Break free from procrastination for better health
Find optimism for goal success
Accept responsibility for your own success
- Zaninotto, P; Steptoe A. Association between subjetive well-being and living longer without disability or illness. JAMA Netw open, July 10,2019;2 (7):e 196870
- Alimujiang, A; Wiensch, A; Boss,J; Fleischer,NL; Mondul,AM; McLean,K; Mukherjee,B; Pearce,CL. Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Netw Open 2019 May 3;2 (5)
- Taylor S. A sense of purpose means a longer life. Psychology today Nov 12, 2014
- McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
- Canfield J. 10 life purpose tips to help you find your passion https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/finding-life-purpose/
- Kishimi,I; Koga,F. The courage to be happy. 2019 Simon and Schuster Pub.