A Sense of Purpose

A sense of purpose is essential for a happy and healthy life, psychologists say.

People who have a strong sense of purpose reap a variety of health benefits, including lower rates of heart disease and stroke, according to recent studies. Researchers from Mount Sinai Health System in New York, for instance, reviewed 10 studies involving more than 137,000 people.

They found that a high sense of purpose—defined as a sense of meaning and direction, and a feeling that life is worth living—is associated with a 23 percent reduction in death from all causes and a 19 percent reduced risk of heart attack, stroke or the need for certain heart procedures. Those with a low sense of purpose were more likely to die or experience heart problems.

"People with something to live for are more likely to follow up with the recommendations of their physician,” said Michael Jeremiah, M.D., Carilion’s chair of Family and Community Medicine. “They're adhering to their medications and getting their screening tests done. They're people who seem to accept the things that are not always easy in taking care of ourselves, but they kind of embrace that and say 'That's just something I need to do. It's kind of the way I can get towards my goals.' I have seen that association and I think it's a powerful one, and I believe in that personally.”

Brian K. Unwin, M.D., chief of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine for Carilion Clinic added, “Those who have successfully aged have not done so in isolation or as rugged individualists.”

Want to learn more about how a sense of purpose can enrich your life and health? Read our cover story in the fall issue of Carilion Clinic Living magazine or pick up a copy at your Carilion doctor's office.