Last updated on April 12, 2021
Live A Life You Love
When you live a life you love, you are more likely to live longer and be healthier. Your mental well-being is just as important as your physical state when you think about healthy habits that contribute to longevity.
Aging is something that concerns most everyone, and while we cannot control whether or not we get old, we can control how we get old. We can control how we live and our mindset, and the type of life we choose to have can make a critical difference in the aging process as it affects our mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual state.
Loving your life and living your passions means to live with purpose that drives happiness, joy, contentment, value within self and of course leads to better aging.
What Does Purpose Mean
What do we mean by purpose?
Whether you think of it as your calling, your life’s ambition, your passion, or your bliss, researchers studying longevity and purpose define it as, “The psychological tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behavior” (Effect of a Purpose in Life on Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease and Mild cognitive Impairment in Community-Dwelling Older Persons, Boyle, et al.).
When you have a strong purpose in your life, you are likely to enjoy:
- a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction;
- better mental health and a more positive outlook;
- less incidence of depression;
- a higher sense of self-acceptance and personal growth;
- more consistent, restful sleep; and
- a longer life.
Living with purpose has so many positive mental and physical benefits, and researchers are examining the role of purpose in longevity more closely now than ever before. Learn more below about how living your life with purpose can actually contribute to a longer, more fulfilled life. We even include ideas for how to find your own purpose.
Does Purpose Promote Longevity?
Whether you think of it as your calling or your passion, having a purpose in life provides you with something to care about outside of yourself. There is a strong correlation between purposeful living, living longer, and reduced risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Several researchers have been examining this phenomenon, and the results are astounding.
A team of researchers from Rush University Medical Center conducted a well-controlled study of 1200 seniors living in aged-care communities and facilities. The participants were all older people without dementia.
After collecting baseline data from each person regarding their purpose in life, the researchers studied the participants for seven years to observe if their cognitive functioning and measure the rate of any cognitive decline.
At each visit, participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with specific statements about their purpose. The elderly participants who described themselves as having little sense of purpose were nearly twice as likely to die during the observation period than those with a higher sense of purpose.
Those who died were more likely to agree with statements such as these:
- “I used to set goals for myself, but that now seems like a waste of time.”
- “My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.”
- “I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life.” (Having A Higher Purpose In Life Reduces Risk Of Death Among Older Adults, Rush University Medical Center)
While it is true these statements have particular meaning and importance for older people, it seems relevant and essential to consider the impact of these beliefs on younger people, too.
Similar studies by the same team indicate that a strong sense of purpose also helps stave off cognitive impairment and neurological damage, the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders. Having purpose keeps people busy and active, which assist in retaining brain function over time.
In their continued research, the Rush team found that a high sense of purpose meant a person was 2.4 times more likely to live without Alzheimer’s than a person with little or no sense of purpose. Those in the high-purpose group experienced mild cognitive impairment less and had a slower rate of cognitive decline as they aged than those in the low-purpose group.
Outside of dementia and Alzheimer’s, those with a higher sense of purpose had fewer incidences of loss of semantic memory, episodic memory, perceptual speed, and working memory. All of these are critical cognitive functions that can decrease with age.
In addition to cognitive benefits, having a higher sense of purpose has been correlated with other benefits that lead to longer life. A study of over 12,000 Hungarians suggested a correlation between having a higher sense of purpose and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (Life Meaning: An Important Correlate of Health in the Hungarian Population, Skrabski, et al.).
Dan Buettner, who has been studying longevity in populations around the world, has noted that those cultures where life purpose is high overall tend to live longer. Buettner calls these areas of the world with longer lifespans “Blue Zones,” and within each of these areas, the concept of purpose is an important part of each culture. These regions not only see people living longer but also showing lower rates of arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.
Those with clear goals and purpose understand what makes them happy, what brings them joy. This is often considered to be the “right outlook” for aging. There is something to be said for living your passions as people with purpose are often engaged in meaningful activities, connect with others to work toward a common goal, and challenge themselves to try new things to attain their dreams.
None of this is to say that you must be happy and focused on your purpose every day of your life. But, when you examine the habits of mind, the activities, and the experiences which comprise the total of your lived experiences, a clear pattern develops.
Living your life overall with purpose and meaning will help you to live longer, be healthier, and stay happier.
How Purpose Promotes Longevity
While it remains unclear the exact physiological reason for the connection between longevity and purpose, there is much evidence to support hypotheses.
- Those with lack of purpose are more likely to have raised levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone.
- They also have higher markers for inflammation, lower levels of “good” cholesterol, and more abdominal fat.
These are all risk factors for cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cognitive issues, and other health problems that can shorten your life.
While researchers may not fully understand the physical reasons for the connection between purpose and longevity, those who have been studying it for years have a few ideas.
If you think of our ancestors, having a clear life purpose served them well. The drive to serve others and be productive is what created civilizations, promoted innovation, and made the society in which we now live. From an evolutionary standpoint, purpose was important to survival from the beginning of human existence.
Today, humans gain the same satisfaction as our ancestors from enjoying greater opportunity, being connected to others in our community, and exploring the world in which we live.
The less we feel connected, or driven to strive, the more likely you are wither, both physically and cognitively.
Find Your Purpose And Love Life
When it comes to finding your bliss, your passion, or your calling, many may be wondering, but how do I find mine? Regardless of your age, it is never too late to find something to care about and start living purposefully.
It is important to remember that finding your purpose is not necessarily about finding your dream job or even identifying a career path. When you are young, this may seem counter-intuitive, but turning something you love into the way you make money can change how you feel about your purpose. Whether you choose to make money from your purpose or use it as a way to contribute to the world, don’t go into your search for purpose with the sole result of finding a new career, or you might be disappointed.
Finding a purpose can help you in many ways throughout your life. Purpose reduces your stress and anxiety, as you have clear goals toward which to work. Purpose can motivate action, a clearer sense of yourself, and confidence in your own decisions.
Without purpose, though, you can experience a lethargy that is not only sad but can be dangerous. Without purpose, you may find it difficult to get through your day. You may feel unmotivated to engage in your daily life or with others. Those without purpose are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health problems.
Purpose doesn’t have to be a lifelong mission to feed the poor or end violence. Purpose is specific to you and your context, and your purpose in life may change over time, as you grow, learn, and mature. You can find purpose in everyday moments and in interactions with others.
Purpose can be as basic as living the life you love, living your passions, doing things that bring you joy and satisfaction.
For seniors, purpose can mean taking care of a pet, planting a garden, or helping care for others in their family. All these activities give them a reason to get up each day, something to look forward to, and a sense of accomplishment about their actions.
When you are younger, though, finding a sense of purpose to drive your activities and propel us forward can seem trickier. Many of us feel too busy or distracted to contemplate fully a big notion like purpose. The world is full of lots of distractions, pulling attention away from yourself, so connecting with your mind and beliefs is an essential first step.
There is no one right way to go about this. Something to consider, though, when contemplating your purpose is that true purpose is always outside of yourself. Whatever consider to be your purpose, make sure it is larger than you and benefits someone or something else. When you think about nothing but yourself and your own needs all the time, you lack the balance in life that will help you be healthier and live longer. Purpose is about finding that balance and enjoying life.
Exercise to Find Purpose
The author of the Blue Zones study, Dan Buettner, has some tips for those looking to find their purpose in life. These suggestions can assist you adopting the outlook and perspective that can help you live a longer, happier life.
Buettner suggests you start with an internal inventory.
- Sit down for 20 minutes and write about your principles, morals, and ideals. Write about your talents and strengths.
- Remember to include not just what you are good at but also what you really love to do. Passion includes those things about which you are deeply curious.
- They make you want to learn more.
- When it comes to your values, consider those things in life you need to be truly happy and at peace.
After a while, you may start to notice a pattern or gain some clarity about where your heart lies. Look at what you wrote and consider what sticks out that can be used in contributing to the world.
If this part feels a bit too sterile for you, then consider this additional step. After you’ve written it all down, leave it for a bit. Take some time by yourself to think. Whether you enjoy being outdoors in nature or want to sit on your back deck and watch the clouds roll passed, take a day to spend some time on your own.
The things you wrote about will percolate in your mind, and at some point, you may notice a strong feeling start to emerge. This type of meditation can help you clear away all the other things in your mind and focus on your true intent. You will likely notice a clarity of purpose that comes from this exercise that can guide you toward your next steps.
Next, create a purpose statement, whether or not you choose to write it down. This is your goal or mission. It should be actionable, something you can really do, starting soon. It should be a way for you to share talents with others while also focusing on something in which you believe.
Next, Buettner says, find a way to put those skills into action. Make plans to do something with your newfound focus. Find one way to give back or make a difference in your community, neighborhood, or family. Set clear goals about what you’d like to do next and adjust your plans as you learn more and gain new focus. But, don’t stop working toward your new goal.
Buettner also recommends showing off your purpose. Display your passions in your house and share your accomplishments with others in your life. This will help remind you of why you chose this path as well as the difference you are making. Your commitment could also help inspire someone else to find their own purpose, too.
Find someone who will support you in your plan for purpose. Whether it’s a spouse, partner, friend, family member, or colleague, find someone you can talk to about your purpose and activities. They can help keep you motivated, provide you with alternative perspectives, and encourage you when you experience setbacks.
Other Strategies For Finding Purpose
Whether you are still young and exploring your life’s purpose, are older and still trying to find your path, or are questioning your choices and ready for a new challenge in life, defining your purpose and taking action is an important step. The steps outlined above are a rational and methodical plan for helping you to identify your purpose, but there are other ways, too.
The most important thing to remember is to follow your own heart. Your inner guidance system will tell you where you need to go. You just have to be sure you are listening. Sometimes, you must work hard to remove the noise and distractions in your life to hear that voice. Take some time just for yourself.
Think about when you have been truly happy. What brings you the most joy in the world? Make a list or all the things in life that bring you bliss and look for patterns. Are they moments when you were leading others to find their calling, times you worked with children, opportunities to make others laugh? What has stoked your passion throughout your life?
Try doing something. Sometimes, though, just thinking about it isn’t going to get you there. Take the leap and get busy. Decide on something you think might be meaningful for you, and just dive in. It may not be the very best fit after a time, but at least you will know what you liked and disliked about the work. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover something about yourself you never knew?
Finally, lose the idea that there is just one purpose for you in life. There are likely many ways you can feel fulfilled and active. Don’t worry so much about finding the one purpose and just focus on finding a purpose.
This will take some of the pressure off from making a decision and leave you free to try something, even if you are not totally sure where it will lead.
The Secrets To Longevity
No matter what direction your search for passion takes you, remember that using your passion for daily action is what will help you live a long, healthy life.
Here are some ways you can put your passion into action each day to enhance your life and bring you added years as well as some additional strategies for improving your longevity.
Include others in your purposeful action. The real secret to living a long time is having plenty of friends. Those with large social circles will live longer and enjoy many health benefits. Your friends are a great support system, can get involved in plans with you, and will slow your cognitive decline as you age.
Once you find that purpose, give to it with all your heart. Especially as you age, commitment to your purpose is vital, as other responsibilities in life disappear, and you have room to fill. Those who engage fully in their purpose feel connected to something larger than themselves.
Make an active lifestyle a part of your purpose. Resist being sedentary in favor of exercise and movement. Get out and enjoy life, be a part of your community, and get moving. Your body will thank you, and you will increase your lifespan the more active you are.
Find balance between purpose and pleasure. Don’t forget to enjoy the things in life that are carefree and fun, too. Find joy in hobbies, healthy food, laughing, and enjoying all that life has to offer. You will feel more optimistic about life and have a healthier attitude overall.
The important thing to remember about living a long life is that it is not just about how you treat your body. It is also about how you treat your head and heart. Focusing solely on your physical health is a good starting place, but real longevity can only be achieved with your mind and soul are equally healthy, too.
Those with a lack of purpose in life are much more likely to feel hopeless and therefore give up on living. It is not uncommon for elderly spouses to die quickly after their mates because, for many, their passion and purpose in life were connected to the other person. Without them, they feel lost and do not want to continue living.
A healthy attitude and an active mind are crucial to living longer. Make sure that, no matter your age, you learn how to deal with stress. As it is a natural part of life none of us can avoid, coping with stress is an important skill. Practicing yoga or tai chi, walking, playing with a pet, or writing in a journal are all excellent coping mechanisms that will take you into your elder years. Dealing with stress will help you live longer and focus on your purpose more fully.
Meditation is an excellent strategy for not only helping you find your purpose but also for maintaining it throughout your life. Meditation allows you to feel calm and enhances your clarity. You can often find the ability to solve problems or see new options after meditation. Learning to meditate is a wonderful mental health tool that can help you live longer and enhance your purpose.
Be sure you set realistic goals for your purposeful activities at every stage of your life. Consider your other life commitments and your professional and personal goals, then write down your action plan for your purposeful life. Be realistic about what you can accomplish at this stage in your life and set goals you will feel happy to be able to achieve. As your life changes, you can adjust your commitment and time.
Remember that variety is the spice of life. Your brain thrives on novelty, so be sure to switch things up on from time to time. Whether it is your daily routine, the focus of your purpose, or anything else in life, remember that a change of pace is a good thing now and then.
Love Life To Live A Long Life
The emotional, physical, and psychological benefits of living a life of purpose are truly immeasurable. What is clear is living with purpose certainly has many benefits, including helping you to live longer and healthier.
From Alzheimer’s and dementia to heart disease and cancer, using your attitude to fight against the diseases of aging is indeed an astounding and wonderful phenomenon.
No matter your age or stage of life, there is no time like the present to find your purpose, live your passions and start adding years to your lifespan today.