A new study has discovered that people who have a sense of purpose in life live longer, no matter what your age. The study which was published in the Lancet as part of a special series on aging, looked at 9,050 English people over the course of nine years.
All of the participants were over the age of 65 so as to keep the study involved with people who had already lived a good portion of their life.
The researchers from UCL, Princeton University, and Stony Brook University set out to measure their sense of purpose and wellbeing through questionnaires that checked for the amount of control that they perceived over their life (referred to as eudemonic wellbeing) and also how they considered if what they did was worthwhile or not. After their results were evaluated, they were split into four separate groups depending on their levels of wellbeing.
To keep things as accurate as possible, the researchers adjusted for things that could affect sense of purpose and well being such as gender, socioeconomic status, physical health, smoking, depression, levels of physical activity, and how much alcohol they consumed.
The results showed that those who were happier tended to outlive their less happy peers. The group made up of those with the highest well being only had a 9% mortality rate over the eight years, while the category with the lowest well being had a 29% mortality rate, which is quite a large difference. These findings back up previous research that claimed that happier people live longer on average.
The study also looked at data on ‘evaluative wellbeing’ which is a measure of life satisfaction, and ‘hedonic wellbeing’ which has to do with feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, stress and pain.
Andrew Steptoe, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and author of the study, shared:
“There is quite good evidence from studies of people in nursing homes showing that those who have something to do and look forward to tend to be in a much better state. I think one of the fundamental ideas is that of autonomy and sense control of their life. People can feel life is just rushing by, or once they quit working their purpose can narrow to some extent.”
The researchers did point out that the relationship between wellbeing and longer lives might not be causal, but that there is the possibility that being happier could ultimately positively affect your overall health. Better moods have been linked to hormonal changes and lowered blood pressure.
With this is mind, there is some evidence that changing ones environment to change life experience could possibly extend life. Suggestions include things like bringing animals into nursing homes or introducing hobbies that can inspire a bit of dedication like gardening. This also of course points to the fact that cultivating a happy life in the earlier years in an ideal move as well.