Higher “Purpose in Life” Reduces Adverse Health Outcomes

Lei Yu

Lei Yu

Purpose in Life – the sense that life has meaning and goal direction – is associated with reduced risks of adverse health outcomes including stroke, according to Rush University Medical Center’s Lei Yu, Patricia A. Boyle, Robert S. Wilson, Julie A. Schneider, and David A. Bennett collaborating with Steven R. Levine of SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Patricia A. Boyle

Patricia A. Boyle

Older people with a greater sense of purpose are less likely to develop other undesirable health conditions including:

Robert S. Wilson

Robert S. Wilson

Yu’s team analyzed autopsy results on 453 older adults enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

All participants underwent annual physical and psychological evaluations, including a standard assessment of Purpose in Life, and were followed until they died, at an average age of 90.
None of the participants had dementia when they entered the study, but 114 people had suffered a stroke.

Eric S. Kim

Eric S. Kim

Yu’s team extended earlier work by University of Michigan’s Eric S. Kim, Jennifer K. Sun, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, demonstrating that Purpose in Life is associated with a reduced risk of clinical strokes in a group of participants aged 53 to 105 years.

This difference suggests that purpose in life is protective for silent infarcts, as well as clinical stroke.

Jennifer Sun

Jennifer Sun

At autopsy, Yu’s group observed macroscopic infarctions, areas of stroke damage visible to the naked eye, among 154 participants and microinfarcts, areas of damage visible with a microscope, among another 128.

Purpose in Life was judged annually using a modified 10-item measure derived from University of Wisconsin’s Carol D. Ryff and Corey Lee Keyes’ scales of Psychological Well-being.

Carol D. Ryff

Carol D. Ryff

Higher scores indicating a greater purpose, and every one-point increase, the likelihood of having one or more macroscopic infarctions decreased by about 50 percent.
In contrast, there was no link between purpose and microinfarcts.

These results persisted after adjusting for potentially confounding factors including vascular risk factors:

  • Body mass index,
  • History of smoking,
  • Diabetes mellitus,
  • Blood pressures.
    Corey Lee Keyes

    Corey Lee Keyes

    Other controlled factors include:

  • Optimism,
  • Childhood adverse experiences,
  • Loneliness,
  • Negative affect,
  • Physical activity,
  • Clinical stroke.Purpose in Life can predict later health status and outcomes, and is amenable to improvement by social participation with friends, community services, physical activity and health behavior modification.
    These positive lifestyle changes contribute to improved physical and mental health and enhanced quality of life throughout the lifespan.

-*How do you define you Purpose in Life?
-*What factors contribute to Purpose in your Life?
-*How do you intentionally increase your sense of Purpose in Life?

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4 thoughts on “Higher “Purpose in Life” Reduces Adverse Health Outcomes

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Hendrie Weisinger wrote:

    Purpose in life also stimulates optimism, zest and hope so it is easy to see why it not only reduces adverse health outcomes but promotes positive health too.

    Kathryn Welds replied:

    Great point, Hank.
    -*Have you found Purpose in Life related to managing pressure?

    See Dr. Weisinger’s Performing Under Pressure – http://www.amazon.com/Perfor…/dp/0804136726/ref=asap_bc…

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Richard Pfau wrote:
    Having a purpose leads to behavior when what one perceives differs from that purpose according to Perceptual Control Theory (Powers, “Behavior: The Control of Perception”, 1973 & 2005). In other words, having a Purpose in Life typically leads to increased behavior/body movements on the part of an individual. Since increased behavior (rather than less behavior) is often associated with improved health, the ideas that “Higher ‘Purpose in Life’ is linked to Reduced Adverse Health Outcomes” is quite understandable.

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks, Richard, for mentioning William Powers’ and John WIlliams’ Behavior: The Control Of Perception – http://www.amazon.com/Behavior-The-Control-Of-Perception/dp/0964712172 (and your review!).
    As you note, Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) is based on the principles of negative feedback, with experimental evidence demonstrating that an organism doesn’t actually control its own behavior, nor external environmental variables, but does control perceptions of behavior: “behavior is the control of perception.”

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Jane Kubasik wrote:

    Awesome findings. Gallup addresses this in their Wellbeing research – having a job with purpose is the single most important contributor to personal wellbeing.
    2 minutes ago

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks for the update on Gallup’s Wellbeing research.

    Reports are available for:
    * Americans Report
    * Well-Being Rankings
    * U.S. State Summaries
    * Community Well-Being Rankings
    * State Well-Being Rankings


    An earlier Gallup press release noted:

    “Most Americans are struggling to achieve satisfactory health and wellbeing according to initial results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index…
    When asked to evaluate their lives based on a ladder scale, 47 percent of the 100,000 respondents polled in the 1,000 daily surveys conducted since January say they are struggling and an additional four percent say they are suffering.
    Factors contributing to these findings include negative workplace environments and difficulty making positive health decisions about modifiable health behaviors like diet, exercise, and stress.”

    Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton explained:

    “…misfortunes tend to reinforce each other.. In addition to physical pain, illness also increases feelings of stress, sadness and worries about money, and lowers energy.
    These consequences of illness are buffered or mitigated to some extent by the availability of health insurance, by higher income, by being married and by social contact with others.
    We are discovering that their emotions, and we expect this survey to provide a much richer picture of the feelings of the American citizenry than has ever been available.”

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    Sharna Kahn wrote:

    At the start of my career, an associate from India posed the question, “Sharna, what is your purpose in life?” I realized that I had acquired some level of wisdom when, finally, years later I understood the meaning and repercussions of that question and how that influenced who I have become. I’m not surprised by the findings in this study.

    Kathryn Welds replied:

    Thanks, Sharna, for the reminder that determining Purpose in Life can take time, and that considering this existential question isn’t a usual workplace conversation.

    James C. Crumbaugh and Leonard T. Maholick developed a way to define Purpose in Life http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/1097-4679(196404)20:2%3C200::AID-JCLP2270200203%3E3.0.CO;2-U/abstract and Brian Burke shared their Purpose in Life instrument here: http://faculty.fortlewis.edu/burke_b/Personality/PIL.pdf


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