Those with the strongest life purpose were more than twice as likely to live longer than someone whose life was aimless and was about day-to-day survival. They were also less likely to be suffering from a chronic health problem. A positive outlook seems to keep inflammation in check, as well as life-threatening problems such as cancer and heart disease, the researchers say.
There was a direct link between longevity and life satisfaction, say researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, who analysed the lives of 6,985 people who were aged 50 and older.
Their psychological well-being was measured on a scale that rated the level of their greater purpose in life; of the 776 deaths recorded during the four years of the study, 13 of the 50- to 54-year-olds had died—but 731 of the over-80s were still alive.
Those who died earlier were also less likely to have had a high school degree, and were more likely to have been a smoker, a non-drinker and physically inactive. Their sense of purpose may also have been dimmed by some physical incapacity, although all the participants were healthy at the start of the study and weren't suffering from a chronic health condition.
Figuring out how to define a life's purpose was trickier, although the researchers said they leaned on the Japanese model of ikigai, which translates as "something to live for, the joy and goal of living."