Sense of Meaning & Purpose Linked to Longer Life

A new study found that people with the greatest well-being are 30 percent less likely to die during an eight-year follow-up period than those with the least well-being.

For the study, researchers at the University College London (UCL), Princeton University, and Stony Brook University surveyed 9,050 English people with an average age of 65. They used questionnaires to measure “eudemonic well-being,” which relates to a sense of control, feeling that what you do is worthwhile, and your sense of purpose in life.

People were then divided into four categories based on their answers, ranked from highest well-being to lowest well-being.

The results were adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, physical activity, and alcohol intake, to rule out as many factors as possible that could influence both health and well-being , the researchers explained.

Over the next eight and a half years, nine percent of people in the highest well-being category died, compared with 29 percent in the lowest category, the study found.

Once all the other factors had been taken into account, people with the highest well-being were 30 percent less likely to die over the study period, living on average two years longer than those in the lowest well-being group, the researchers report.

“We have previously found that happiness is associated with a lower risk of death,” said Professor Andrew Steptoe, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, who led the study. “These analyses show that the meaningfulness and sense of purpose that older people have in their lives are also related to survival.

“We cannot be sure that higher well-being necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing well-being could help to improve physical health.”

Steptoe said, “There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people.”

The study was published in The Lancet as part of a special series on aging.

Source: University College London