How a Sense of Purpose Could Make You Live Longer

by Eliza Castile

Are you trying to live longer? As it turns out, in your all-consuming search for the Fountain of Youth, the journey might be just as important as the end result. According to new research, having a sense of purpose makes you live longer. Looks like all those movies about following your heart are on to something after all. The study, conducted at the University College London, included 9,050 participants with an average age of 65. They were asked to fill out a survey about their eudemonic wellbeing, which measures things like your sense of control over your fate, how worthwhile you feel your life is, and (like you've probably guessed) how strong you feel your sense of purpose in life is. The researchers categorized the participants from lowest to highest wellbeing based on their answers. Individual factors like social class, mental illness, and alcohol intake all influence both wellbeing and health, so researchers adjusted the data accordingly to take as many variables as possible into account. Over the course of the next eight years, researchers found that almost one-third of those who had reported the lowest wellbeing had passed away, compared to only nine percent of those with the highest wellbeing. Overall, people with high levels of wellbeing were 30 percent less likely to die while the study was going on, and they lived an average of two years longer than those in the lowest category. Two years?

Someone sign me up. This isn't the first study to find that meaning in life isn't just good for your emotional health. It's an integral part of wellbeing, up there with positive relationships and, you know, actually being happy. Feeling like you have a purpose in life is also linked with a lower risk for Alzheimer's and greater sexual enjoyment, and greater wellbeing overall is associated with a number of awesome things, from being more likely to practice safer sex to having a lower risk for depression.So what can you do to increase your wellbeing? Figuring out your purpose in life is on you (sorry), but there's quite a bit of research indicating that you're happier once you realize that happiness isn't dependent on achieving all your goals — so stop stressing out about following that five year life plan you came up with to a tee. For something a little less philosophical, things like eating more fruits and veggies or getting more exercise also improve your sense of wellbeing. I'm starting to realize that part of being an adult is admitting that mom was basically always right. Good thing I lost all my pride (and dignity) a long time ago.

Let's be real, even if it doesn't mean you'll live forever, this sounds way more attainable than trying to find the Philosopher's Stone from Harry Potter. Is anyone else planning to make some adjustments to their life goals now?

Images: Wes Peck/Flickr; Giphy (2)