What’s your Purpose in life? I’m thankful only a few people have asked me this question, because it made me squirm. “Purpose” with a capital P has always seemed like a divine gift that directs its holders to make service the focus of their lives, like fighting at the national level on behalf of a particular species on the endangered list.
Since I retired, volunteering has been a side gig, something I’ve done a few hours each week. My big goal has been to write and publish a novel, which clearly is not giving my life to service. It is purpose with a small p.
This week,I read a title on the NPR website, “Having a Purpose in Life May Lessen the Risk of Early Death” and that made me more concerned. Maybe being satisfied with purpose with a small p could lead to my early demise.
The article summarized what University of Michigan researchers learned using data from The Health and Retirement Study, a public source of information on aging in America since 1990. Their conclusion: “People without a strong life purpose were more than twice as likely to die between the study years of 2006 and 2010, compared with those who had one.”
Other research, including a study from Harvard scientists reported on CNBC, backs this claim. One reason for scientists’ interest in the topic of purpose is that … “the aging and infirm U.S. population is considered a global public health challenge. Nearly 1 in 3 adults over 65 have a hard time walking just three city blocks, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports.”
These aren’t the only studies about this topic. “[Harvard] researcher Eric Kim has found that a higher sense of purpose also correlates to a reduced risks of disability, stroke, heart disease, sleep issues and other health problems.”
After reading various reports, I’m relieved by the researchers’ definitions of purpose. The Harvard researchers call it “a sense of direction and goals.” From the U of Michigan study we find examples of purpose that included “building guitars or swimming or volunteer work. What matters… is not exactly what a person’s life purpose is, but that they have one.”
I now feel much better about purpose. It means I can continue to study reams of research and plug away at my laptop to make up an entertaining story and still hope to stay healthy.