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Description: Live a meaningful life and you will feel better and live longer. Sound good? Well, while you may have heard that somewhere do you know if it is true and if there is research supporting it? Think about how you would design a study to try and evaluate this statement. Who would you include in the study? What would the design look like (cross-sectional or longitudinal)? How would you assess meaningfulness and purpose? What else would you measure? After you have through those questions through (a bit) read the article linked below to see how researchers did so in a recently published study.

Source: The Power of Purpose and Meaning in Life, Lydia Denworth, Brain Waves, Psychology Today.

Date: January 12, 2019

Photo Credit: yacobchuck/iStock

Article Link:

So, the search suggests that the statute we started with above holds up. People who are socially engaged feel better about themselves and appear to also do better physically as they age. The question of whether the correlational nature of this sort of research is a problem (maybe being healthy and engaged socially makes you feel like your life has more purpose rather than the other way around). The longitudinal study discussed in the article suggests that the findings may not reflect an entirely correlational relationship. It may seem unrelated but as an example of the power of direct face-to-face social interaction consider this. Jean Twenge has done research with members of the population born since 1994 (called iGen). The oldest members of this generational cohort are now in or just graduating university and as a group their rates of anxiety and depression, self-harm and rates of suicide have jumped up rather alarmingly compared to previous generations at the same age. Why might that be? Well, this is the first generation ever to spend its entire teenaged years with smart-phones and on social media and, as a group, engaging in significantly lower rates of face-to-face social interaction with peers or anyone. Yes, of course, more research is needed but it IS something that should make you start to think a bit about how we are social (real social as in face-to-face social) beings and about what we are or should be doing to and for ourselves as we grow and age. Oh and by the way, there is a word for what older people should be working on, it is Ikigai (search it on this blog site and you will see a couple of posting about it).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How are meaning and purpose related to wellness in aging populations?
  2. What does it mean to say that maybe the observed relationships are just correlational?
  3. What evidence is there that the reported associations between meaning, purpose and wellbeing are NOT correlational?

References (Read Further):

Steptoe, A., & Fancourt, D. (2019). Leading a meaningful life at older ages and its relationship with social engagement, prosperity, health, biology, and time use. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201814723.

Carlson, M. C. (2011, May). Promoting healthy, meaningful aging through social involvement: building an experience corps. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2011). Dana Foundation.

Power, M. B., Eheart, B. K., Racine, D., & Karnik, N. S. (2007). Aging well in an intentional intergenerational community: Meaningful relationships and purposeful engagement. Journal of Intergenerational relationships, 5(2), 7-25.

Brayne, C. (2002). Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier and More Meaningful Lives. David Snowdon. New York: Bantam Press, 2001, pp. 256, $24.95 (HB) ISBN: 0-553-80163-5.

Twenge, J. M. (2017). IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Simon and Schuster.