The answer to that question has major implications for your health and longevity.
There is fascinating new research on the mind/body connection that has uncovered a clear link between purpose and meaning in life and our health. The degree to which we experience meaning in life, as well as the source of our well-being, are key determinants of the action of our genes, our inflammatory response and, ultimately, our lifespan.
The measure of meaning in life is intensely personal-there are no external references. The meter of meaning is the degree to which an individual’s thoughts, actions, and experiences are in alignment with their personal aspirations. And that’s the beauty-there’s no single standard. Everyone’s sense of personal meaning is internally calibrated.
Link Between Meaning and Longevity
In a 14 year study, individuals who felt their life was led with a strong purpose had a 15% survival advantage over those with less meaning but otherwise similar health characteristics.
Your Inner Compass Directs Your Genes…and Turns Off Inflammation
An innovative study explored the molecular mechanisms that link psychological well-being with health. Those whose well-being came from an inner sense of purpose in life were also found on genetic analysis to have turned off a set of genes that trigger inflammation. On the other hand, those whose source of contentment relied on external circumstances (good things happening rather than a sense of purpose), were found to have a fully activated gene cluster, with increased production of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Now is the Time!
For some, a health crisis is a reflection point that, for the first time, forces the afflicted to take stock of what is important in their lives. You’ve probably heard the comment that cancer or a heart attack “was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve heard it before many times. It’s the silver lining that literally transforms lives. After a serious illness patients often stop smoking, improve their diet and become more active after encountering a serious illness. Similarly, in a spiritual sense, people often wait until after a near death experience to really focus on their life’s priorities and how best to align their actions with their goals and aspirations. But why wait for a health crisis? As a favorite nurse of mine was prone to say, “you can’t fatten the pig on the day of the fair!”
Cultivating Meaning and Purpose: Your Life Depends On It
Meaning and purpose in life can be cultivated. For some, meditation provides a relief from the clutter of everyday thoughts and creates an opening from which meaning and purpose can more clearly emerge. For others, the framework of religious beliefs and practices helps to strengthen their inner compass. Increased contact with nature is another strategy that encourages self-reflection.
The idea that good health is needed to fulfill your purpose in life is well understood. Science is now beginning to reveal that the converse is also true: a strong sense of inner fulfillment exerts a powerful influence on our health and well–being.
Purpose in Life as a Predictor of Mortality Across Adulthood
A Functional Genomic Perspective on Human Well-Being