No matter our age, having a sense of purpose or meaning to life propels us to be healthier and happier overall, according to recent research. A sense of purpose can be defined as having a sense of direction and that there is true meaning to our present and past life.
One’s purpose can vary from person to person and can change with the specific life stage we are in. For instance, during the parenting years, some might find their sense of purpose raising children but when the children grow up, they feel a loss of their purpose in life.
Another example is when some people look forward to retiring but when they actually do, a different reality hits them. They become depressed because they lost that sense of purpose and satisfaction that working at their job provided them.
Others might have married their soul mate, and then feel completely lost when the spouse dies so they don’t know what to live for anymore.
But do we always need purpose as we grow older?
Purpose Equals Health
Yes! Research on older adults indicates that if we want to remain healthy, we need purpose. Among this population, purpose in life has been associated with positive health outcomes, including fewer chronic conditions, less disability and reduced mortality, according to a 2018 study in Population Health Management.
This study found that the strongest characteristics associated with medium and high levels of purpose in life were social support, resilience, reliance on faith, health literacy and better health.
Those participants with medium to high levels of purpose in life also had significantly lower health care utilization and expenditures, increased compliance with preventive health services and a higher quality of life, the research stated.
“Regardless of the directionality, purpose in life is strongly associated with better physical and mental health outcomes among older adults,” the study authors concluded.
Fostering Purpose and Independence as We Age
Still, as we age, our cognitive and physical abilities can diminish and we may not even realize it because it can happen so slowly. Then as we become physically or cognitively compromised, it can limit our time away from home, engaged in activities and with people who helped us feel that sense of purpose.
And as we lose our physical and cognitive function over time, it can be more challenging and time consuming to deal with day-to-day activities like paying bills, home maintenance and scheduling doctors’ appointments.
This is when isolation (the physical and emotional feeling of loneliness) can set in and can set us up for depression and other health problems.
At this point, finding a sense of purpose can help and it’s never too late. What it takes to get there is asking for and accepting help with what overwhelms us so that it frees up time for more interesting and active pursuits.
For example, getting help with bill paying or home maintenance means we have that extra time to spend doing something we love (like playing cards, volunteering or spending time with friends) that can add purpose to our lives.
The bottom line: Having the ability to find purpose in our lives makes us more independent and healthier as we age.
Life Managers & Associates’ goal is to enable aging in place. We help clients to feel safe and supported while remaining in their home — saving money and alleviating stress for all.