Secret of long life

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Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life—and the benefit can be realized throughout adulthood. That’s the conclusion of a long-term study that tracked the physical and mental health of more than 6,100 Americans aged 20 to 75. Previous research has shown purposefulness to be one of the strongest predictors of longevity, but this is the first time its impact on mortality has been isolated from other influences.

At the outset, participants’ sense of purpose was assessed according to their response to statements such as “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.” They also answered questions about their emotional state and the quality of their relationships. Over the 14-year study period, 569 participants (roughly 9 percent of the group) died, and those subjects had all scored lower than their counterparts when it came to purposefulness.

The findings held even after controlling for factors such as positive outlook, suggesting that purpose itself drives longevity. “Finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve,” Carleton University psychology professor Patrick Hill tells BBC .com, “can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.”