In Stress and Coping

Having a sense of purpose

Recent study links strong life with purpose and health.

A sense of purpose in life have been found to be link to a lower risk of death according to a most recent study published on the 24th of May, 2019 in JAMA Network Open.

This cohort study included almost 7000 adult participants between the ages of 51 to 61 who showed that life purpose was significantly associated with mortality caused by all possible reasons. The researchers used the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) – a US nationally representative, prospective cohort study that began in 1992 and has collected comprehensive data from 2006 through 2010 to examine whether purpose in life is associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality among older adults. Life purpose was found to be a modifiable risk factor that is connected to health outcomes, including mortality. The researchers concluded:

“This study’s results indicated that stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality. Purposeful living may have health benefits” (p. 2). 

William Damon and his colleagues (2003) have defined purpose as

“a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self”(p. 121).

Their definition of purpose includes three components:

“1. Purpose is a goal of sorts, but it is more stable and far-reaching than low-level goals such as “to get to the movie on time” or “to find a parking place in town today.

2. Purpose is a part of one’s personal search for meaning, but it also has an external component, the desire to make a difference in the world, to contribute to matters larger than the self.

3. Unlike meaning alone (which may or may not be oriented towards a defined end), purpose is always directed at an accomplishment towards which one can make progress.” (p.121).

Leaders in the evidence-based field of Positive Psychology (e.g., Seligman and Fredrickson) did explain purpose as a cornerstone of happiness, optimal experience, and a life well-lived.

Purpose opens opportunities. This information can awaken you to define goals that are personally meaningful and reach beyond yourself in some way to progressively define your existence.  Purpose does not have specific definitions or boundaries.

Having a purpose — whether large or small, whether we reach the objective or continue to strive for it — informs our existence in important ways that may impact physical and mental health and overall well-being. 


Alimujiang, A., Wiensch, A., Boss, J, Fleischer, N.L., Mondul, A.M., McLean, K., Mukherjee, B., & Pierce, C.L. (2019). Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Network Open, 2(5).

Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K.C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.

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