Do you have a meaning in life? You may be healthier than others. The relation between good health and finding life’s meaning has been much discussed since three decades with new insights from medical research. A recent investigation at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine revealed having a meaning in life is healthy. It is not just a philosophical concept. It has much to do with happiness and even the survival chances of a human being.
Dilip V Jeste, MD, Senior Associate Dean for the centre of Healthy Ageing and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of medicine supports having a meaning in life. According to him, those having it are healthier and more contented than directionless unfortunates. However, the psychology of life is complex and it may not be easy for all to realize the link between meaning in life and good health.
Meaning in life -What is it anyway?
The eminent wellbeing researcher Laura King and colleagues add a new connotation. It is the feeling of one’s life being important and purposeful extending over instantaneous bliss. There are three major constituents to the meaning:
- Purpose, having a finite objective in life
- Sense, the extent to which we feel our life has dignity and importance.
- Consistency, understanding that one’s life is mapped out in a visible direction. It is constructive adding value to self and society. It is not like a rudderless ship sailing aimlessly in an ocean.
Life has a purpose:
Life indeed has a purpose and those who understand it live with zest. They have mapped their entire life on a definite pathway. What to achieve in which age and where would they reach after a passage of finite time is visible to them. However, at the initial start, we are in the search of meaning in life. As we age, the intensity of search diminishes and we approach towards the realization.
By the time we reach 55-60 years, there is nothing more to search. We have attained the right age and if we have planned our life well, the goal is right here. Research conducted and published over the internet in the 10th December 2019 edition of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry hit upon significant findings.
The meaning in life is linked to better mental potential, exuberance and optimism. The study group also worked out a graphical representation regarding the search for the meaning of life and the presence of meaning of life. Both were plotted against progressive age groups. The presence of meaning in life displayed a downside up U shaped relationship with age. On the contrary, the search for meaning of life showed a U shaped relationship. This means, with aging individuals could identify their meaning in life and therefore the search for it is less.
The saturation age:
The psychology of life is not even throughout your lifeline. What is significant today may lose importance five years later. People in the quest for finding the meaning of life may eventually locate it when they touch 60 years. Then the search ceases to exist as you have found what life is all about.
A survey was carried out in the US sampling candidates ranging between 21 years and more than 100 years! They found that when candidates hit upon middle age they were the most satisfied lot. They have attained whatever aspirations and achievements of life. Now as the age progressed beyond the middle age, physical inabilities took over. Satisfaction and health gradually started to go downhill.
Living with a purpose linked to longevity:
Studies further found that people who lived with a purpose and had meaning were mentally and physically much sound. Conversely, people lacking an objective to chase died young. Another survey conducted earlier this year taking a sample of 7000 middle-aged US citizens had similar conclusions.
Samples lacking a strong life purpose stood more than twice a chance of dying within a 5 year period; the cause of death is mostly from heart-related issues. This relationship existed irrespective of race, sex, level of literacy and affluence. It was also found that lacking a purpose in life is as potent a killer as is smoking, drinking and a sedentary lifestyle.
Finding life’s meaning – is it a component of the wellbeing puzzle?
Psychology professor Andrew Steptoe and senior research Associate Daisy Fancourt from University College London conducted a study on this. 7304 UK residents in the age group of 50 plus were selected. A range of questions were framed for them evaluating social, financial, health and physical activity profiles.
The basic intent was to what extent they feel the things they do in life are productive. A follow up was made three years later with the same profiles. One crucial question shot was, do having a meaning and purpose in life buy a few years in the last lap?
Responses were collected and analyzed and showed that samples with a higher meaning in life had:
- A reduced chance of divorce
- Reduced risk of isolation
- Heightened social connectivity
- Reduced risk of chronic illness and depression
- A healthy body weight and physical activity
- A healthy lifestyle.
In a nutshell, people having a meaning in life spent quality life blessed with health, wellness and content.
Having a purpose in life benefits your health:
Having a definite and constructive goal in life welcomes positive psychology. Studies show that it promotes your health in the following ways:
- Being aware of a strong purpose in life helps you rise above petty regular issues that cause tension. When you can see the bigger picture, chronic troubles get dwarfed. Consequently, your stress level drops.
- Having a purpose in life makes you more prepared for oncoming challenges. You cope better with adverse situations. An experiment on arthritis patients revealed those living with a strong sense of purpose were doing better post surgery.
- People living with a focus looked after themselves well. They believed that a healthy body and mind would help them achieve the desired goal in a reasonable time. Consequently, they radiated sound mental and physical health.
Happiness and meaning of life – are they two sides of the same coin?
Happiness and realizing the meaning of life often go hand in hand. Usually, when the later is realized the former cannot lag far behind. But often the two may not be inclusive of one another as the studies suggest. A research conducted by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and the team show satisfaction of basic need increases happiness.
But it may not always promote the purpose for which you are here on earth. As a comparison, if you try to see the connection across your past, present and future, it may clarify your vision of life. It may not bring happiness at the same time.
A state of connection with others may give room to both life’s meaning and happiness though they may not be synchronized at a common point of time. A case in point is a farmer striving hard to give his son the best education possible. Here happiness is not instant. The poor man makes a lot of sacrifices to find his life’s purpose.
When the son grows up to become a figure of substantial social standing, happiness to the parents comes in a much-magnified proportion. The poor farmer had comprehended the psychology of life early. He had found the meaning first and later the consequent happiness!
The meaning of life and stress hormone:
A study conducted by A Rozanski of Mt. Sinai, St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital shows a link between physical health and purpose of life. In his paper put on public view in 2016 in the journal of psychosomatic medicine, he displayed cases from 10 separate studies. It showed those having purpose of life had reduced mortality rate and heart related issues.
Although more research is needed to establish the connection between meaning of life and wellbeing moves in positive direction. It is imperative to see if stress hormone and purpose and meaning in life do share a significant physiological connection.
Motivation towards life’s purpose triggers physical workouts:
Studies suggest that if you have a meaning in life, you nurture yourself towards physical and mental development. You realize you have some concrete accomplishments to achieve. You need a mind and body beaming with full potential. This realization inspires you to physical exercise. It is very important that on what positive perspective your mind works on.
Another finding is close relationship of purpose of life with a reduced manifest of pro-inflammatory genes. Purpose in life decreases cortisol level and reduces pro-inflamatory cytokines. When inflammation in your system is low, you are healthy. Cardiovascular and immune related disorders stay away from you. You feel tranquil and happy that indeed life has a purpose!