People who think their life has meaning and purpose die later than people with a lower sense of personal wellbeing, according to a new study.
About 9,000 people over age 65 were followed for eight and half years as part of a study published in the Lancet. Researchers measured their wellbeing by giving them a questionnaire that gauged how much control they felt they had over their own life, and how much they thought what they did was worthwhile. The participants were then split into four groups, ranging from the highest to lowest levels of wellbeing.
Happier people tended to outlive their less fulfilled peers. Over the eight years, just 9% of people in the highest wellbeing category died, compared to 29% in the lowest category. Previous research has linked happiness to a longer life, and this new finding adds to the theory.
“There is quite good evidence from studies of people in nursing homes showing that those who have something to do and look forward to tend to be in a much better state,” says study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care. “I think one of the fundamental ideas is that of autonomy and sense control of their life. People can feel life is just rushing by, or once they quit working their purpose can narrow to some extent.”
Steptoe says it’s possible to engineer environments that encourage greater wellbeing, like bringing pets into nursing homes or having residents partake in gardening. Increasing meaning during the day might just increase lifespan, too.