There are many factors involved in longevity and quality of life and we all have our own intuition about what combination of genetics, environment and perhaps even good luck is involved. Being trained as an engineer as well as a clinical psychologist, I wanted to take a look at the research as my current clinical focus is on life purpose and mission. Here is what I discovered regarding longevity and purpose.
In an ongoing study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers asked thousands of retirement-age women and men to rate their sense of purpose in life. Those with the highest sense of purpose were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with the lowest sense of purpose during seven years of follow-up.
In an earlier study, the same group found that the risk of dying from any cause was nearly cut in half among women and men with a greater sense of purpose. Japanese researchers in a similar study found evidence of protection from heart attacks and strokes in middle-aged men.
The Longevity Project out of University of California at Riverside reviewed and supplemented studies of over 1500, ten year old children from 1921 through the present. Interestingly, it wasn’t the happiest, most cheerful children who lived the longest.
“It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.”
In addition, “Continually productive men and women lived much longer than their more laid-back comrades.”
This research affirms my own professional experience and personal belief that people with purpose and meaning in their lives tend to live and thrive the longest. It is also in alignment with noted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl who stated in his incredible book, Man’s Search for Meaning
that the camp survivors tended to be those were connected to a strong reason to survive, to be the ones who had a purpose:
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’ “
My final affirmation of longevity and purpose comes from the the Okinawan Centenarian Study. Okinawa currently has the world’s highest known concentration of centenarians. The study reported that compared to North Americans, Okinawans suffer 80 percent fewer incidences of breast and prostate cancers, and less than half the ovarian and colon cancers. Yes, no doubt genetics is involved in this (most studies show that genetics and heritability account for between 10-50% of lifespan, with an average of 33%), yet lifestyle also plays a critical role.
In the Okinawan dialect, there is no word for “retirement”. Instead there is another word, “ikigai”, which translates roughly to “purpose” or “that which makes one’s life worth living.” The over 900 Okinawans studied all seemed to have a strong ikigai.
All in all, I am pleased that science is consistent with my professional and personal experience. As a man on the tail end of middle age (or perhaps in denial that I’ve passed it), I can’t speak about my personal longevity although I can speak to purpose as it has impacted my personal satisfaction and quality of life. In my twenties I was a very well paid and successful engineer and I absolutely hated my work and my life. I was angry and depressed about it most of the time.
Thankfully, I only spent ten years of my life this way (slow learner) and redirected myself to the path of psychologist, couples counselor and mission coach. My attitude and emotional life did a one-eighty as I pursued and began to live my life with a purpose and meaning that was consistent with my gifts, values and passion. As I stated earlier, my work has moved into the direction of life purpose and what I refer to as “mission”. The concepts of mission and life purpose is important to all of us and especially to those in the second half of life, vis a vis the research I’ve described in the article.
To educate and serve more people, I have created a special report, “The Secret To Owning Your Mission” where I share my insights and methodology to mentor men and women in uncovering their life purpose, their mission and in removing the blocks to living and owning their mission successfully.
I also offer a complimentary 20 minute, “Own Your Mission” Consultation to support you on your journey. It’s all available when you subscribe to my Passion Doctor Newsletter, at the top right corner of this page.. And of course, if what I have to say adds value to you, I’d appreciate you sharing it with at least three of your closest people.
Fittingly, in accord with both this topic AND my own personality, I will end this article with a geeky (or perhaps nerdy?) salutation from the long-lived Star Trek: