Patrick Hill (Carleton University) and Nicholas Turiano (University of Rochester Medical Center) in 2014 reported the results of a 14-year study in Psychological Science. Their study began in 1994-1995 when over 7000 people were recruited to participate (90% White; about equal numbers for men and women; young, middle, and older ages). They measured purpose in life using three questions from the Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being:
- “Some people wander aimlessly in life, but I am not one of them.”
- “I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future.”
- “I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life.”
Hill and Turiano found about 9% of the participants died during the 14 years of the study. Overall those who died tended to be older, male, less educated, and fewer were employed. Their analyses indicated that having a greater purpose in life decreased the risk of dying over the next 14 years by 15%. As a single predictor of mortality, the third question above was the most accurate. Some of their conclusions (from page 1485):
- “Greater purpose predicts greater longevity in adulthood.”
- “Maintaining a strong purpose in life can be as important at younger ages as it is at much older ages.”
- The benefits of having purpose do not depend on whether or not you are retired.
- People should find direction in life “as early as possible.”
- “Finding a purpose may add years to one’s life.”
- My guess is the key is not purpose per se but rather meaning. We come at life and give it meaning. Consider work. What does work mean to you? A paycheck? Friends? A feeling of satisfaction? A retreat from the other pressures of life? A place from which to retreat?
- We come at life differently, some with great goals, others with few. We live our days and give meaning to the events around us. Some experience and celebrate the moments. Others conceptualize their activities and summarize in a few words. But for those who see only negative meanings, who see no purpose, my guess (consistent with this research) is that their path may be shorter.
- Leaders help their people, their organizations find purpose.
Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1482-1486.
Seifert, T. A. (2005). The Ryff scales of psychological well-being. From https://www.wabash.edu/alumni/news.cfm?news_ID=3570
Image “Lavender Mist Selfie” ©John Ballard, 2014.