The late American psychologist Wayne Dyer once said, “If you are what you do, then when you don’t – you aren’t.” This little aphorism accurately describes the plight of many retirees. Their identity is so wedded to their work that, once they quit their jobs, that sense of identity disappears. In short, they’ve lost their life purpose.
Life Purpose Affects How Long You’re Likely to Live
As it turns out, the presence or absence of a life purpose can have a significant impact on how long you’re likely to live. That’s the clear conclusion from this just-published article on the National Public Radio website. According to NPR, a study that was recently appeared on the website called JAMA Network showed that “having a purpose in life may decrease your risk of dying early.” Researchers analyzed data from nearly 7,000 American adults between the ages of 51 and 61 who filled out psychological questionnaires on the relationship between mortality and life purpose. Researchers were “shocked” at the results, said one of the study authors. According to NPR, “People who didn’t have a strong life purpose… were more likely to die than those who did, and specifically more likely to die of cardiovascular diseases.”
Moreover, the correlation was statistically significant: research showed that “people without a strong life purpose were more than twice as likely to die between the study years of 2006 and 2010, compared with those who had one.” The connection between purpose and longevity also appeared to transcend all the usual socioeconomic categories. “This association between a low level of purpose in life and [earlier] death remained true despite how rich or poor participants were, and regardless of gender, race, or education level. The researchers also found the association to be so powerful that having a life purpose appeared to be more important for decreasing risk of death than drinking, smoking or exercising regularly.”
Life Purpose Can Be Just About Anything
According to researchers quoted by NPR, a life purpose doesn’t have to be complicated or lofty. The survey defined life purpose as a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals – in other words, it’s something you choose that helps you get up in the morning and gives your life a set of objectives. “The survey didn’t ask participants to define how they find meaning in life,” said the article. What matters, according to the researchers, is not exactly what a person’s life purpose is, but that they have one. “For some, it might be raising children. For others, it might be doing volunteer work,” said study author Dr. Celeste Pearce. “Where your life fulfillment comes from can be very individual.” Another expert in the field who has studied the link between life purpose and health told NPR that basic psychological needs are just as important as physical needs like food, water and sleep. This doctor puts the need for a purpose in life at the top of the list. “The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1,” he said. “It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is.”
This is definitely not the first time that research has demonstrated that life purpose and longevity are linked. “The new study adds to a small but growing body of literature on the relationship between life purpose and physical health,” says NPR. One paper from 2016 “used data from 10 studies to show that strong life purpose was associated with reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or stroke.” Dr. Celeste Pearce says she hopes for more research so doctors and psychologists can help people who lack a sense of purpose and vision for their lives to develop one. But regardless of the unanswered questions, the take-away seems clear. “What I’m really struck by is the strength of our findings, as well as the consistency in the literature overall,” Pearce says. “It seems quite convincing.”
Life Purpose: Do You Find It or Does It Find You?
If you’re one of those people whose mind goes blank when the question of “life purpose” comes up, there are plenty of online tools and tips to help you ask yourself the right questions and zero in on the things that make you tick. (We did a Bing search for “finding a life purpose” and came up with 97 million hits.) One example is this NextAvenue article from a few years ago in which the author, life coach Ed Merck, suggests five steps toward helping you determine your life purpose:
- Identify the activities that you find personally meaningful.
- Create a brief statement or simple phrase that ties these interests together.
- Strengthen your inner landscape through “internal” activities like meditation – something important for retirees who have lived their entire working lives conforming to external standards.
- Learn to be still, quit striving, and listen for possibilities. “I often think the key to fulfillment in one’s later years is not about finding purpose,” says Merck: “rather, we need to let it find us. Sounds easy, but it’s not.” We need to learn “a whole new way of embracing life.”
- Explore the power of creativity – something many rediscover later in life.
Life Purpose Can Be Enhanced with a LifePlan
It’s tough to find purpose in life when you’re stressed out, and facing retirement without a plan is a huge source of stress. Planning for your retirement is a critical need, and if you’re getting serious about planning for your retirement future, we hope you’ll accept the invitation from Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions to join him soon at a free event called a LifePlanning Seminar. Rajiv will show you an exciting model for comprehensive retirement planning in which health care, financial security, legal protection, housing choices and family communication are all woven together into one powerful and seamless blueprint. Come discover how to build the retirement of your dreams and create the kind of retirement living where your life purpose can actually flourish. You’ll find a calendar of upcoming seminars on our Live Events page – then simply register for the date and time that works for you.
The key to a secure retirement is proper retirement planning, and it’s available to you today from the professionals at AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at www.npr.org)