Are you comfortable with why you’re here and where you’re headed? If you are, it could lead to a healthier life and boost how you feel every day.
A small new study reports that people who have found meaning in their lives fare better in terms of both physical and mental health compared to their counterparts who continue to search for purpose.
The findings of the research team from the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine suggest that people with meaning may experience better health, wellness and longevity, improved mood, better relationships, and improved mental performance.
More than 1,000 people from a variety of ages filled out questionnaires designed to assess purpose, physical and mental health, as well as mental acuity. Results indicated that older individuals—who may be struggling with retirement, lost friends and family, illness, and mortality—tend to look for meaning as the world they know often changes drastically.
Overall, researchers noted a U-shape relationship between meaning and age. People sought meaning in the early part of their lives (the 20s) then less so as they grew into themselves (30-plus) but returned to their search as they aged.
The reason why meaning may play such an important role in overall health is its potential relationship to stress. A lack of purpose may lead to fear and anxiety about what comes next, or about your place in the world. In turn, this stress can lead to physical symptoms like poor sleep, inflammation, high blood pressure, and other conditions associated with stress and anxiety.
It’s common to wonder about life’s purpose as you age. The meaningful things that occupied so much of life for so long—career, family, friends—may no longer be relevant. Retirement may mean the end of a career and children may have moved out to start lives of their own. Family and friends, once central to daily life, may have passed on or moved away. These changes can leave a person asking what is the purpose of living.
If you are searching for meaning in your life after a rough go of things, one place to start is by accepting the things in your life that you can’t change. From there, begin to focus on the various things you can do to make yourself happy and useful to others. It could be something like joining a club, volunteering, planning your retirement, or taking on a hobby. If you struggle to come up with something on your own, consider having a meaningful conversation with a friend.
Devon Andre holds a bachelor’s in forensic science from the University of Windsor in Canada and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.