There's no denying the powerful link between the mind and body. Our mental health and physical health are intertwined in an incredible and awe-inspiring manner. A new study published in The Lancet reports that having a sense of meaning and purpose may increase your lifespan.
Researchers from University College London, Princeton University, and Stony Brook University examined the link between well-being and longevity. They discovered that people who felt the highest sense of control and believed their lives were worthwhile were 30 percent less likely to die during the eight-year study period. On average, people with the highest well-being lived two years longer than people with a lower sense of well-being.
Researchers suggest that having a sense of purpose may increase mental health and physical health in several ways. Positive well-being is linked to lower cortisol output -- which plays a role in lipid metabolism, immune regulation, brain function, and bone calcification. Positive feelings have also been associated with reduced inflammatory and cardiovascular response to stress.
Life Satisfaction, Well-Being and Age
Our life satisfaction fluctuates throughout the phases of our lives. Although there are common trends in life satisfaction across the lifespan, those trends are different throughout various areas of the world.
In high-income English-speaking countries, satisfaction dips in middle age and then rises again in old age. Researchers suggest this dip in life satisfaction occurs because middle-aged people are at the peak of their careers. During the height of their earning potential, middle-aged people are more likely to devote longer hours to work in an effort to save for retirement. The increased devotion to their careers decreases their overall well-being.
In other regions -- the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean -- life satisfaction steadily declines with age. People in these areas tend to experience a rise in worry and physical pain as they grow older. Their happiness decreases, but their anger and stress also decrease over time. The decline in life satisfaction is largely linked to the fact that older people in these regions are relatively disadvantaged compared to their younger counterparts.
Although researchers are careful to point out this study doesn't prove causation, it does show correlation. People who are physically healthy are more likely to stay active and enjoy a higher sense of well-being. And a high sense of well-being is linked to decreased risk of health impairments.
What Can We Learn From this Study?
This research serves as a great reminder of the importance of emotional well-being and life satisfaction. Here are three things that can increase your sense of meaning and purpose:
1. Create a reason to get out of bed every day. It's essential to have a sense of meaning and purpose outside of your career. If your sole sense of identity is linked to "what you do" instead of "who you are" you may lack purpose during retirement, which could decrease your life span. Do something that matters and work toward making a difference in the world.
2. Set limits on work. Although you may be tempted to work long hours now so you can enjoy more money in retirement, working too much may prevent you from living long enough to enjoy your golden years. Skimping on sleep, eating too much fast food, and ignoring your stress in an effort to earn more money could impair your physical health permanently. Those health impairments may decrease your ability to remain active later in life, which can lead to a shorter life span.
3. Step back and look at the big picture. The daily grind often keeps our focus on productivity rather than a higher sense of purpose. Ask yourself, "When I'm 80 years old and I look back over my life, what will help me feel satisfied?" This can help you keep the big picture in mind so you can live a life with purpose and meaning.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.
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