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Feeling Purposeful Increases LIfespan, Regardless of Age

Update Date: May 12, 2014 08:31 PM EDT

Believing that your life has purpose may promote longevity, according to a new study.

Researchers said the latest findings apply to people of all ages, and provide insight into promoting positive aging and adult development.

"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," lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada said in a news release. "So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur."

While previous studies found that having purpose in life lowers death risk, Hill and his team wanted to find out if its benefits vary over time.

Hill and his team analyzed data from over 6,000 participants who took part in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study.

Researchers focused on participants' self-reported purpose in life and other factors that helped determine their relations with others and their experience of positive and negative life experiences.

Researchers noted that 560 participants had died during the 14-year follow-up.

The study showed that those who had died had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than those who survived.

The findings also revealed that greater purpose in life correlated with lower death risk across a person's lifespan. Researchers said the findings suggest that purpose promotes longevity in all age groups.

"There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones," explained 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."

"To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct," he added.

"These findings suggest that there's something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity," Hill concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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