The presence of purpose and meaning in life are related to positive health and well-being, according to a study which suggests this relationship changes as people grow older than age 60.
The researchers, including those from the University of California (UC) San Diego in the US, said meaning in life is associated with better health, and perhaps longevity.
They examined data from 1,042 adults of ages 21 to more than 100, who were part of the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) — a multi-cohort study of senior residents living in San Diego County.
The researchers assessed the presence and search for meaning in life with interviews, including a meaning in life questionnaire where participants were asked to rate personal statements like “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life,” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, said those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it.
According to the researchers, the presence of meaning in life is associated with better physical and mental well-being, while the search for meaning in life may be associated with worse mental well-being and cognitive functioning.
“When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don’t have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out,” said Dilip V. Jeste, study co-author from UC San Diego.
The researchers said the presence of meaning in life exhibited an inverted U-shaped relationship, while the search for meaning in life showed a U-shaped relationship with age.
They found that at age 60 the presence of meaning in life peaks, and the search for meaning of life was at its lowest point.
“When you are young, like in your twenties, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life,” said Jeste.
“As you start to get into your thirties, forties and fifties, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you’re settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases,” he added.
After age 60, Jeste said, things begin to change as people retire from their job and start to lose their identity.
People start to develop health issues, and some of their friends and family begin to pass away, the researchers said.
According to the study, people start searching for the meaning in life again at this point since the meaning they once had has changed.