Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development, says lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada:
“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says Hill. “So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.”
Previous studies have suggested that finding a purpose in life lowers risk of mortality above and beyond other factors that are known to predict longevity.
But, Hill points out, almost no research examined whether the benefits of purpose vary over time, such as across different developmental periods or after important life transitions.
Hill and colleague Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center decided to explore this question, taking advantage of the nationally representative data available from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study.
The researchers looked at data from over 6000 participants, focusing on their self-reported purpose in life (e.g., “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them”) and other psychosocial variables that gauged their positive relations with others and their experience of positive and negative emotions.
Over the 14-year follow-up period represented in the MIDUS data, 569 of the participants had died (about 9% of the sample). Those who had died had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.
Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period.
This consistency came as a surprise to the researchers:
“There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones,” says Hill. “For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events. In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.”
“To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct,” he explains.
Purpose had similar benefits for adults regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And the longevity benefits of purpose in life held even after other indicators of psychological well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account.
“These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.
The researchers are currently investigating whether having a purpose might lead people to adopt healthier lifestyles, thereby boosting longevity.
Hill and Turiano are also interested in examining whether their findings hold for outcomes other than mortality.
“In so doing, we can better understand the value of finding a purpose throughout the lifespan, and whether it provides different benefits for different people,” Hill concludes.
Preparation of the manuscript was supported through funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant T32-MH018911-23), and the data collection was supported by Grant P01-AG020166 from the National Institute on Aging.
The United Nations declared March 20th International Happiness Day, and to mark it there will be free video presentations about how people are using Positive Psychology in their lives and careers starting tomorrow.
International Happiness Day March 20, 2014
March 20, 2014
Listen and learn from the world’s foremost experts in the application of positive psychology. Each speaker will share usable, practical, evidence-based insights to enhance your well-being personally and professionally. Celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness by learning how to create more happiness for yourself and others and increase the total tonnage of happiness in the world.
All of the talks are available at the same time so you can pick and choose what you want to hear/view, but these videos will cost a modest amount (either $25 or $50) starting on March 21. All of the presenters are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology degree program (MAPP Program).
If you want to just register and see who is presenting and what the topics are, you can get a free ticket to use at this link: https://www.entheos.com/International-Day-Of-Happiness/ Just type in your name and email address. There’s tons of fantastic, useful info here. I’m sure you will find something helpful…fast!
To life, love and laughter!
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Expert
Anger Management Specialist
Happiness is related to greater success at work, more resiliency, less burnout and stress, more satisfying relationships, increased creativity, intelligence and flexibility of thought, improved immune system functioning and greater productivity. Happiness is more than a mere emotion; it is a habit we can improve with specific daily practices. Science is showing that some habits cultivate more happiness than others. One of the most powerful habits for happiness and life satisfaction is self-compassion, or self-acceptance. Yet this is also one of the most secret habits, one that is least likely to be practiced.
The non-profit organization, Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, asked 5,000 people to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on ten habits. These ten habits have been shown in the latest scientific research as being instrumental to happiness and well-being.
The top ten habits, according to science, are…
Being kind to others (giving)
Being around others (relationships)
Appreciation of the world around you
Learning new things (approaching the world with curiosity)
Goals (having significant direction in life)
Resilience (finding ways to bounce back from challenge)
Of these valid approaches to happiness and satisfaction, most of the participants report being kind to others most frequently. And this is the most reliable way that science knows of to boost your mood to a positive place…do something kind for someone else. And fortunately, many people report doing kind acts quite frequently (7.41 out of a possible 10).
Being around others, or relationships, was a close second. Participants were asked, How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? The average score was 7.36 out of 10. And 15% of people scored the maximum 10 out of 10.
Most excitingly, the survey also looked at which habits are most closely linked to people’s life satisfaction. All 10 habits have been shown in studies to be strongly linked to life satisfaction.
Self-compassion Trumps Them All
What you may NOT know is that self-compassion, or self-acceptance, is the habit that predicts happiness most strongly. Unfortunately, self-compassion is also the least frequently practiced habit. Self-compassion was the lowest average score from the 5,000 participants (average rating of 5.56 out of 10). Only 5% of people put themselves at a 10 on the self-compassion habit. Around one in five people (19%) scored an 8 or 9; Less than a third (30%) scored a 6 or 7; and almost half (46%) of people rated themselves at 5 or less. We are not taught to be self-compassionate. We are not taught to be self-accepting. I would argue most of us are socialized in the opposite way…win at all costs, strive to be the best, you are not enough, you are not worthy, never be satisfied. This must change. And there are proven practices to do just that.
But I digress. Let me return to the study findings.
Physical exercise is another highly rated happiness habit. Yet this one came up relatively low as well. The average answer to How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? was just 5.88 out of 10, with 45% of people rating themselves 5 or less.
Professor Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist and co-founder of Do Something Different, stated: “Practicing these habits really can boost our happiness. It’s great to see so many people regularly doing things to help others — and when we make others happy we tend to feel good ourselves too. This survey shows that practicing self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness. Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to fee happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”
Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, reported: “Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. These findings remind us that if we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we’re likely to be much happier. The results also confirm us that our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.”
So how can we practice the self-compassion habit?
Here are three positive actions shown in research by Kristin Neff from University of Texas, Austin, that people can take to increase their levels of self-compassion:
Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Speak to yourself as if you are 4 years old when you fall short or make a mistake. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you (and let them know of their strengths too!)
Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are. Remind yourself “I am worthy. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of success. I am worthy of happiness.”
Key Survey Question Average score (Frequency of engaging in habit)
Giving How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others? 7.41
Relating How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? 7.36
Exercising How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? 5.88
Appreciating How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life? 6.57
Trying out How often do you learn or try new things? 6.26
Direction How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals? 6.08
Resilience How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems? 6.33
Emotion How often do you do things that make you feel good? 6.74
Acceptance How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? 5.56
Meaning How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose? 6.38
A final question posed was: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
The average score was 6.49, compared to a national average of 6.34 reported in the UK National Values survey 2013.
For more info on happiness, well-being and positive psychology, check out my newest site at HowICanBeHappy.com.
To life, love and laughter,
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
We’ve known for some time that romantic love activates the same reward areas in the brain as cocaine. And it’s equally addictive for many of us.
Recently, Yale School of Medicine researchers have discovered a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine desire for the happiness of others without any expectation of reward — actually turns off the same areas in the brain that light up when lovers see each other. This phenomenon has now been documented in the minds of experienced meditators.
“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” reported Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.
Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, share their discoveries in a paper to be published Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.
The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.” These sayings are most commonly encountered in a particular type of meditation known as loving-kindness meditation.
Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.
“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist