Researchers at the University of Michigan find that living with purpose reduces your risk of dying early.
Conversely, people who did NOT have a strong sense of life purpose were more than twice as likely to die. The cause of their death was most likely to be cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, blood clots and circulatory disease, such as stroke.
We already know that having a sense of purpose in life is associated with lower expression of proinflammatory genes – meaning physiologic inflammation, like the type that can drive cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with a lower level of the adrenal gland stress hormone called cortisol.
This new scientific study released in JAMA Current Open included over 7000 Americans between the ages of 51 to 66. I’m 60, so right now this is my age group. As a physician I know that our youthful resilience starts to really wain at this age and the daily choices we make are very evident once we hit our 50s and beyond. (Remember when you could take a "red-eye" flight and still function well the next day? How’s that going now??)
This is also the age when we start thinking about impending retirement. This study is a wakeup call to think deeply about our choices as we transition from middle age to our next phase of life. Will it support our sense of life purpose? In this study, a life purpose was defined as “a self-organizing life aimed to stimulate goals.” To those of you who, like me, are over 51,
Do you have a strong sense of your life’s purpose right now?
It’s important to give that a real think. I’m a Baby Boomer. We are 55 to 75 right now, and there are 76 million of us. Gen X is right behind us and they are 40-55. There are 82 million of them.
As we pass through the big career push and nesting years, what’s next?
How do you develop a strong sense of life purpose?
Best-Selling Author, Shannon Kaiser, gives some simple tips in a Huffington Post article:
1. Get More Action.
She notes, “You can’t think your way into finding your life purpose, you have to do your way to it…The more we act, the more we get clear on things. So instead of overthinking it...start trying new things.” I love it! Kaiser started writing. So did I. I love writing for you. It’s a creative outlet I NEVER would have predicted for myself. I’ve found that writing about dermatology, wellness and skin health for you has become a passion for me - It gives me deep purpose.
2. Drop From Your Head to Your Heart.
Here, Kaiser notes that when you ask yourself what you love, start taking steps to do what you love, you will be inspired and gain insights to what brings you the most joy. Now that’s a fun project!
3. Break Up with The “ONE.”
Kaiser points out that there isn’t just ONE thing for each of us. Looking for that creates a sense of frustration. She says, “To lead a purposeful life, follow your passions.” Note the ‘s’ on the word passion.
I personally have a number of passions, and I create "appointments" on my calendar to be sure my passions are a priority as a day unfolds. For example, I love talking with my patients and practicing dermatology (work), writing (I’m best at writing in the morning), gardening (Thursday and Saturday), exercise (weekly yoga, Pilates and lap swim are fixed "appointments" on my calendar), and time spent with my family, my dog, in nature, with my friends (walk dates with friends/family/dogs/outdoors on woodland trails are great multitasking "appointments" that happen at least twice weekly). I intentionally reach out to friends and family, and in a structured fashion calendar, set our "appointments." Tasks and responsibilities that I don’t have “passion” for must fit in around these "appointments" – hello dishes, putting gas in the car, paying bills, etc.
Kaiser’s formula for a purposeful life is:
Passion + Daily Action = Purposeful Life
This new study proves that prioritizing your weekly activities to include those that create purpose is important. As a physician, I have to frame this in context (along with eating well, getting some exercise and wearing sunscreen) how you spend your time builds wellness and longevity.
What new experiences or juicy passion are you putting on your calendar this week? I say, sprinkle them in daily and see how it feels.
And, if following your passion finds you going outside during daylight hours, don’t forget your sun protection!
Alimujiang A, Wiensch A, Boss J, et al. Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(5):e194270. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.4270
Fredrickson BL, Grewen KM, Coffey KA, et al. A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110(3):13684-13689. doi:10.1073/pnas.1305419110PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref