The Secret to a Long Life? A Meaningful Reason to Keep Living

Research says having purpose is more important than headline grabbers like drinking, smoking or exercising

By Michael Miller – September 30th, 2019

A recent study found that having a life purpose significantly decreased a person’s risk of dying, even more so than typical health risks like drinking, smoking or not exercising regularly.

You read that correctly.

This study – and it’s not the first – found that having a life purpose is a stronger predictor of longevity than smoking, drinking or exercising. This association remained true regardless of wealth, gender, race, or education level. 

If you find that hard to believe, you’re not alone. But this research isn’t an aberration, or the result of a small sample size. It adds to a growing body of evidence about the importance of life purpose to wellbeing, including your quality of sleep. Alan Rozanski, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who has conducted his own research into life purpose and physical health, told NPR that the results speak for themselves:

“The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1. It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is.” 

How they defined life purpose

The researchers defined a strong life purpose as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals.”

If that sounds vague, it is. The researchers posited that it doesn’t matter what a person’s life purpose is, just that they have one. Celeste Leigh Pearce, one of the authors of the study, told NPR that people’s purpose ranged from raising children to doing volunteer work to fixing guitars for musicians. The correlation held regardless of the purpose: It’s a connection to some bigger purpose that matters.

Having life purpose found to reduce risk of dying, and in fact, this study found the correlation to be stronger than popular health measures like smoking, drinking or not exercising.

How to find your life purpose

In the Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence, finding and following your life’s purpose is the competency called pursuing noble goals. 

Pursuing noble goals is about discovering your bigger purpose, and then making it part of your life – connecting your daily actions to that bigger purpose. We’ve found through experience that it infuses even the smallest actions with relevance and meaning. And according to this research, it can also help you live longer.

So what’s your purpose?

If you already know, post it in the comments below. This can be your Noble Goal, or just a purpose – or purposes – that motivate and sustain you.

If you want to find or clarify your life’s purpose, download this worksheet, Finding Your Noble Goal, by filling in the form. It’s free, and we’ll email it to you. It’s a step-by-step guide with coaching questions to help you clarify your life’s purpose. 

Warning: it could save your life.

Download free worksheet


Study details

The study enlisted 7,000 American adults between the ages of 51 and 61. They filled out psychological questionnaires, which the researchers then cross referenced with physical health and mortality data. 

The questionnaire used in the study – the Psychological Wellbeing Scale – includes questions designed to measure how strong a person’s sense of life purpose is, asking them to rate their answers to statements such as: “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

Those without a strong life purpose were more twice as likely to die between the study years of 2006 and 2010.

What’s new in emotional intelligence?

Want a Good Life? 3 Lessons from Harvard Grant Study

Want a Good Life? 3 Lessons from Harvard Grant Study

Harvard study, more than 80 years old, identifies the common threads of a long, satisfying life. So what makes a good life? And how can this study’s findings help us make better decisions in our own lives?

Why Six Seconds?

Why do leaders from places like the UN, FedEx, Amazon, Qatar Airways choose Six Seconds’ tools and methods?

  • Global: Used in 157 countries & territories — this approach works everywhere.
  • Scientific: The latest research creates a robust approach by the pioneers in EQ — these tools are reliable.
  • Practical: It’s not enough to talk about emotional intelligence — Six Seconds helps you put it into action.
Michael Miller

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