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Do You Know Your Purpose in Life?

Science says our health and wellbeing may depend on it.

When was the last time you asked yourself, “what is my purpose in life?” Most of us think that finding meaning in life is a philosophical endeavor, but new research says that this fundamental question has a lot to do with our health and wellbeing.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, aimed to determine whether having a sense of purpose in life was associated with better physical and mental health. Researchers analyzed data about 1,042 adults from the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) — a study of adult community-dwelling residents of San Diego County, California. Presence of meaning and search for meaning in life were measured with the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, while physical and mental wellbeing were also assessed.

Based on the data, the researchers found that those who felt they had meaning in life displayed better physical health and better cognitive functioning, while those who reported searching for meaning throughout their lives to be less mentally and physically healthy. 

Another interesting thing they found was that at age 60, the presence of meaning in life seemed to peak while the search for meaning of life was at its lowest point. Speaking on these results in a press release, senior author of the study Dilip V. Jeste, MD, said, “When you are young, like in your twenties, you are unsure about your career, a life partner, and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life.” He added, “As you start to get into your thirties, forties, and fifties, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you’re settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases.”

But once we hit 60, the script changes a bit, and results from the research point to this. Jeste went on, saying “After age 60, things begin to change. People retire from their job and start to lose their identity. They start to develop health issues and some of their friends and family begin to pass away. They start searching for the meaning in life again because the meaning they once had has changed.” 

So if 60 rolls around (or has rolled around) and you begin to question again what your purpose in life is, perhaps this insight can help you understand what you need to take care of your overall wellbeing — deep, meaningful social connections with your loved ones, and a sense of security and safety. As Jeste concluded, “It’s an exciting time in this field as we are seeking to discover evidence-based answers to some of life’s most profound questions.” We’re looking forward to hearing what more the science has to say about living a happy, healthy life as we age!

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