Life Purpose and Mortality
Multiple studies have shown that people who lack life purpose have a higher death risk (up to three times higher according to one study). This may be because those with a distinct purpose experience fewer sleep disturbances and have a lower incidence of depression and diabetes as well as conditions that affect blood flow to the brain. In contrast, low life purpose has been linked to a higher risk of death from heart, circulatory, digestive, and blood conditions.
While we know that psychological well-being and physical health are connected, science has yet to completely understand how. One potential link may be inflammation. Chronic stress has been shown to cause your immune cells to activate genes that trigger inflammation. Meanwhile, strong purpose has been linked to lower levels of proinflammatory gene expression.
While brief inflammation serves a purpose within your body (such as helping to heal a cut), chronic, ongoing inflammation can up the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease. In fact, research suggests that inflammation is the root of 50% of all deaths.
Purpose has been shown to positively affect brain health and prevent neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, research shows that high-purpose individuals tend to have stronger connections between specific brain regions involved in cognition.
Multiple studies have found that a higher level of life satisfaction is tied to a lower risk of developing heart disease, and the opposite is also true. One analysis even found that higher levels of optimism and life purpose were associated with a 35% reduced risk of experiencing a first-time cardiovascular event, like a heart attack.
In people already diagnosed with heart disease, higher levels of well-being were associated with an 11% reduced risk of death and a 19% reduced risk of re-hospitalization. These findings suggest that well-being, including optimism and life purpose, may have a protective effect on heart health, both in healthy people and those with heart disease.
Make purpose a priority and remember that it may shift over time. Living a purposeful life truly can transform your happiness and overall health.