New research suggests that optimism has long-term health benefits.
People who feel that their daily activities are meaningful tend to be healthier and happier. They may even live longer than those who don’t believe their daily lives have purpose. These are the findings of a new study that analyzed self-reported data and biological markers of 7,000 adults over age 50 over the four-year period between 2012 and 2016.
The study, which was published in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), identified a list of emotional and physical health benefits among participants who rate their daily lives higher on a “worthwhile” scale. The findings were found to be accurate independent of age, gender, educational background and socioeconomic status. The benefits include:
—Stronger personal relationships
—Less chronic pain
—Greater physical strength
—Faster walking speed
—Fewer depressive symptoms
—Less reported loneliness
—Broad social engagement
The authors summarized the findings, saying, “The feeling that life is filled with worthwhile activities may promote healthy aging and help sustain meaningful social relationships and optimal use of time at older ages.”
The relationship between finding meaning in daily life and experiencing better mental and physical health is complex. But this research reinforces the importance of social connection and personal purpose at a time when many speak of a “loneliness epidemic” that particularly affects older adults. It encourages each of us to take the time to focus on positive activities that bring us both pleasure and purpose.
Daisy Fancourt, lead co-author of the study, told the University College London that the research did not track what daily activities each participant found meaningful. “For some it might be supporting their families, for others a particular accomplishment in their work or hobby, enjoying nature or perhaps following a favorite sports team,” she said, “What is important is that the individual finds these activities worthwhile and feels they give a sense of meaning to life.”
What do you find gives your daily life the most purpose?