Living purposefully adds years – as well as higher quality – to your life. But how do we go about living purposefully?
First, let’s look at a couple of recent studies and what they say about purpose and longer life. In one study done in the UK, researchers found that people who believe their life has meaning and purpose die later than people who have a lower sense of wellbeing. According to Time Magazine,
About 9,000 people over age 65 were followed for eight and half years as part of a study published in the Lancet. Researchers measured their wellbeing by giving them a questionnaire that gauged how much control they felt they had over their own life, and how much they thought what they did was worthwhile. The participants were then split into four groups, ranging from the highest to lowest levels of wellbeing. Happier people tended to outlive their less fulfilled peers. Over the eight years, just 9% of people in the highest wellbeing category died, compared to 29% in the lowest category. Previous research has linked happiness to a longer life, and this new finding adds weight to the theory.
Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period. This consistency came as a surprise to the researchers:
“There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones,” says researcher Carleton Hill. “For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events. In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.”
Living Purposefully Lengthens Life
Researchers in the UK discovered that it didn’t matter at what age you found your purpose in order to lengthen your life.
According to the researchers, their results suggest that creating a purpose for yourself could promote healthy ageing throughout adulthood. “Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says lead researcher Dr Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada.
Purposefulness has previously been found to be one of the strongest predictors of longevity, but this is the first study in which this effect has been isolated from other psychological and social influences on lifespan. It is also the first to include younger age groups. Having a sense of purpose was consistently linked to longer life across all age categories, leading Dr Hill to believe that “the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.”
So, you see, living purposefully does lead to longer and better quality life.
Living Purposefully. But How?
Back to the question: how do we live purposefully? You first must clarify your purpose. And – remember – you may have more than one purpose in life, and it may change over time. Mine has. I answered the nine questions below to help hone in on my purpose. These questions don’t have to be answered in any particular order, but I find it easier to start with #1.
1. What are my unique gifts and talents?
This question helps you inventory the attributes that make you, you. Sometimes patterns emerge when you start the list.
2. What do I do best?
These items probably emerged when you inventoried your gifts and talents. List them.
3. How much of my time do I spend doing what I do best?
This will probably be a lot less time than you would like.
4. What do I want to achieve in my life?
It could be anything, and as unique as you are. It could be one goal or multiple goals. Write down what you want to achieve.
5. Who are the most important people in my life and how can I spend more quality time with them?
Could be friends, could be family, or a combination. List them individually and think about activities you could do together in order to spend quality time with them.
6. What makes me really happy?
I hope there is something in your life that makes you happy. Studies show that people who spend time with others are happiest. They don’t judge themselves by the standards of others. They set their own criteria. Happy people tend to be less materialistic, as well.
7. How do I want to be remembered?
This is your legacy by which you will be remembered when you are gone. When you have a legacy in mind, you have an action plan for bringing it to fruition.
8. How can I make a difference to the world?
There are many ways one person can make a difference in the world. Not all of us are going to discover the cure for cancer, but there are many small ways to make a difference on a daily basis. In my opinion, one of the best ways to make a difference is by committing to constantly improving yourself. This has a ripple effect to the people around you.
9. What’s most important in my life?
For me it is family, friendships and living my purpose. What’s yours?
If you answer the questions above, you are well on the way to developing a purpose statement that can guide you to the life you desire, to living purposefully. We’ll talk about that soon.