Want to extend your golden years? Find a sense of purpose.
That decidedly self help sounding advice comes courtesy of a study done at Carleton, published in Psychological Science. How the hell would they measure something like that? Well, researchers looked at data from over 6,000 participants of the Midlife in the United States study, where one of the survey questions had to do with self-reported purpose in life (e.g., “I plan on leaving the world a little better than I found it”, or “I’m going to give my kids and grandkids a good start in life”).
Fourteen years later, researchers followed up with their subjects. About 9% of the sample had died (569 people), and those who died reported less purpose in life and had fewer positive relationships than those who lived. Furthermore, purpose in life showed the same benefits for younger, middle-aged, and older study participants.
“There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones,” says Patrick Hill, lead researcher. “For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events. In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.”
So there you have it: you aren’t too young to pick a purpose and reap the benefits. Some purposes might not be as healthy as others—like our goal of cataloguing every barbecue joint in the American South—but hey, better than no purpose!