mike-purpose

The long winter months are traditionally a time to reflect and a great time to clarify what we value in our lives. Doing so can help us find a sense of meaning and purpose that can carry us forward into the new year and beyond.

Those in the helping professions have long observed that people who have a sense of meaning and purpose appear to do better with their lives in general and their health in particular. Research over the last 10 years is showing us that our observations were spot on. A clear, if even very simple, sense of one’s values, meaning and purpose is linked with greater longevity, fewer heart attacks, better diabetes management, less depression, less sedentary behavior, less Alzheimer’s disease, and even better sex!

In recent years, there has been more attention given to this topic in the media and in the work of people like researcher Victor Strecher at the University of Michigan (www.dungbeetle.org). He sees a direct connection between having a purpose in life and how we behave, particularly in terms of choices that affect our health. For Strecher, lacking a sense of purpose is just as great a health risk as any other (e.g. smoking, obesity, etc.). He believes that when we start thinking “bigger than ourselves” (self-transcendence) we behave in ways that result in great health.

Clarifying our values is a key step to developing our sense of meaning and purpose. Strecher cites research showing that cigarette smokers who affirm their core values are more open to anti-smoking messaging and less defensive about it. He also found that people are more likely to participate in diabetes risk assessments if they have just completed their values list.

Evidence of the connection between health and having meaning and purpose continues to mount. In research published Nov. 3 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Michigan researchers “found that people with greater senses of purpose in life were more likely to embrace preventive health care: things like mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, and flu shots.”

The longevity connection has increasingly found support as well. Neuropsychologist Dr. Patricia Boyle studied 1,238 older adults using a sense-of-purpose evaluation. “When comparing scores, Boyle found that those with a higher sense of purpose had about half the risk of dying during the follow-up period as did those with a lower sense of purpose. And that was true, she said, even after controlling for such factors as depressive symptoms, chronic medical conditions and disability.”

“Though much other research has found that having a purpose in life is crucial to maintaining psychological wellness and can be important for physical health as well, Boyle said she believes the new study is one of the first large-scale investigations to examine the link between life purpose and longevity.”

“What this is saying is, if you find purpose in life, if you find your life is meaningful and if you have goal-directed behavior, you are likely to live longer,” she said.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, is CEO of Real Balance Global Wellness Services Inc. Contact him at (970) 568-4700, e-mail michael@realbalance.com or visit www.realbalance.com.