Meaning in life keeps you alive

07 Jan Meaning in life keeps you alive

The older people get, the more their lives might change. For example, their friends and relatives may reach the ends of their lives, and people’s careers may begin to wind down.

According to a new study paper appearing in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, crossing this threshold reawakens people’s need to find meaning in life.

The study, which researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted, finds a link between having a sense of meaning and positive physical, mental, and cognitive functioning.

“Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it,” says senior study author Dilip V. Jeste.

The researchers drew their correlations from 1,042 adults who took part in the Successful Aging Evaluation from January 2013 to June 2014.

The participants were residents of adult communities in San Diego County, CA. They were aged 21–100+.

The researchers performed the following evaluations:

“A Meaning in Life Questionnaire” captured each participant’s current relationship with meaning, categorized as “Search” or “Presence.” The team asked the participants to identify with different statements, such as, “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life,” or, “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”

Each participant self-reported their physical condition and mental status and took part in a phone interview as a means of assessing their cognitive status.

In terms of searching for meaning versus acquiring it, the data showed a striking inverse relationship between the two at age 60: “Presence” reached its highest level at that age, while “Search” hit its lowest.

This suggests that for many people, there was no further need to keep searching for meaning at that point; they had found it by the time they turned 60.

Using statistical models, the researchers found that physical condition correlated negatively with older age but positively with Presence. In fact, the correlation grew even stronger beyond the age of 60.

Mental well-being was positively associated with aging and Presence but negatively with Search. Cognitive function was negatively linked to advancing age and Search.

The study’s conclusion is that finding meaning in one’s life constitutes a sound strategy for thriving in later years — in part because it supports the preservation of a person’s physical and mental well-being.

As the first study author Awais Aftab explains, “The medical field is beginning to recognize that meaning in life is a clinically relevant and potentially modifiable factor, which can be targeted to enhance people’s well-being and functioning.”

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