The Benefits of Having a Purpose: Why Meaning is Important

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I’ve established that the purpose of life is to be the best version of yourself, but that best self can look wildly different for each person. If my best self is to be an amazing writer, yours might be to be an amazing chef or a top-notch airline pilot.

That’s the beauty of the purpose of life: it is both the same and yet deeply personal for all of us.

Finding that deep purpose in life is incredibly important, and in this article I will tell you why.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The reasons why having a purpose is so important
  • The physical, emotional, relational, and financial benefits of purpose
  • How purpose can help you live a longer life

Purpose vs. Goal

Firstly, we have to define what we mean by purpose in this situation. Purpose is more than just having a goal.

Anthony L. Burrow, a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, defined it this way:

“Purpose is a forward-looking directionality, an intention to do something in the world. It’s different than a goal, which can be accomplished. Wanting to be a father is a goal because it is achievable. But to be a great father is more of an intention than an achievement. On some days, one might come closer to the ideal than others, but it is never a completed task.”

In other words, the type of purpose that we are talking about is the kind that is almost never-ending. You can’t accomplish your purpose like you would a goal, but you can move in the direction of purpose.

With that in mind, it’s time to examine some of the many benefits that we get from having this purpose driven life.

The Physical Benefits of Purpose

Some of the most profound effects of a higher level of purpose come in the form of health benefits. If you have a solid sense of purpose, you will have better physical health, including the following:

  • You Will Live Longer: Dan Buettner is well known for identifying the “Blue Zones”, where individuals tend to live much longer than others, even neighbors that live one town away. A study done in 2009 of over 73,000 Japanese men and women found that those with a higher purpose lived longer than those without. While there are more than one factor in the Blue Zones contributing to longevity, it was one of the predominant shared attributes. These findings were corroborated in another study in 2014, showing that “having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.”
  • Your Risk of Heart Disease Is Lowered: Another study done in 2008 found that purpose contributed to the likelihood of cardiovascular disease contributing to early death. In other words, you are less likely to have heart disease if you have a sense of purpose.
  • Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Is Lowered: Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, discovered that people without a clear purpose were far more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease (2.4 times more likely, in fact). Having a higher sense of purpose, on the other hand, reduced cognitive decline.
  • Your Risk of Chronic Illness Decreases: A 2019 study found that those with the self-imposed sense of purpose had a much smaller chance of dealing with chronic illnesses or pain, and also had decreased depression. While chronic illnesses can happen to anybody, there are certain aspects that can take the edge off, and having a purpose is certainly one of them.
  • Your Pain Management Improves: Last, but certainly not least, your ability to handle pain improves when you have a sense of purpose. A study published in the Journal of Pain (what a name for a journal, am I right?), found that women with a stronger sense of purpose could withstand heat and cold stimuli better than those without.

All in all, the physical benefits of having a purpose are worth it on their own. When you find that sense of purpose, nothing can stop you, because you will be on your way to doing great things in your body knows it. Your body wants it. Our public health would benefit greatly from a definite purpose.

The Emotional Benefits of Purpose

In a 2019 study that I have already referenced, there were a number of emotional benefits that come from having a sense of purpose as well. These include:

  • Happiness: when measuring the positive emotion and life satisfaction of the participants, researchers found that those with purpose had increased happiness and well-being.
  • Healthy habits: researchers found that participants with a sense of purpose were more likely to treat themselves well, perform self-care practices, and overall make use of healthy habits.
  • Better sleep: another study concluded that having a sense of meaning and purpose in life lead to better sleep quality. Problems such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome were diminished.
  • Decreased depression and anxiety: a smaller study looked at the effects of purpose on depression and anxiety among those with addictions. They found that having a sense of purpose significantly decreased the negative effect of these mental illnesses.

It’s entirely possible that the physical benefits mentioned above are likely due to some of these emotional benefits, such as improved sleep. It’s also possible that the reverse is true. Whatever the case, it seems that having a sense of purpose will make your life better from an emotional standpoint.

The Relationship Benefits of Purpose

But wait, there’s more! Are you having trouble with your relationships lately? Perhaps you can’t get a date, or your spouse is getting on your nerves, or your children run you up the wall.

Well guess what, having a purposeful life will improve your relationships as well.

In 2009 study of over 1000 older adults found that a high sense of meaning and purpose in their lives resulted in more time spent with loved ones, and more attention placed on these important areas of our life.

Overall, these people were more engaged with family, coworkers, community, and achieve more satisfying relationships as a result.

Additionally, research from Cornell University discovered that those with a sense of purpose were “emotionally even-keel” among groups of a different ethnicity than their own. So having that sense of purpose can literally help us remove barriers between social and ethnic groups.

In the 2019 study, it was found that purpose resulted in a higher likelihood of having a life partner, a decreased risk of divorce, and an increased activity between the subject’s and their communities. It’s no wonder that these people were also less lonely.

Financial Benefits of Purpose

I’ve referenced this 2019 study a lot, but I’ve got one more nugget of goodness here: a sense of purpose will make you rich.

The study found that those with purpose enjoyed greater prosperity, achieved a higher income, were more likely to be employed, even after taking baseline income and wealth into account.

Purpose Creates Resilience

One of the most common attributes of those with a sense of purpose is that they are able to endure the obstacles that life throws at them with more finesse. They are far more able to take what life throws at them and use it to their advantage.

When we understand the obstacles make a stronger, that they are actually pushing us towards our purpose in helping us grow, we are able to achieve long-term resilience and satisfaction even when facing hard times.

Purpose Creates Longevity

I’ve already mentioned Dan Buettner and the blue zones, but it’s worth mentioning again. Having a sense of purpose will make you live longer.

Studies have shown that retiring is one of the most dangerous things you can do to your health. Those that retire often find themselves dying shortly thereafter, and most studies agree that this is because they have lost a sense of purpose which was previously associated with their job.

Therefore it is vitally important that we maintain that sense of purpose throughout our life, long after we retire.

Additional Benefits of Having Purpose

In addition to everything I’ve mentioned before, there are a few other benefits that are harder to pin down in an objective study, but are nonetheless real.

  • Purpose increases your focus: having a sense of purpose helps you zero in on what is truly important and focus on that thing.
  • Purpose increases clarity: when you have purpose, it suddenly becomes clear what does and does not contribute to that purpose, thereby making your decisions easier.
  • Purpose increases gratitude: a person with a sense of purpose understands that they are living life intentionally and in a way that will have a greater impact on the world. Therefore, they are able to find increased gratification in life.
  • Purpose breeds integrity: when you have a sense of purpose, you are less likely to be dishonest, because doing so would be fundamentally against your better nature. You know who you are and what you stand for, and having that purpose aligned with your core values increases your integrity.
  • People trust you more: when you live a life of increased integrity, and it’s clear you know where you are going, people are much more likely to trust you.
  • It’s plain fun: those with a sense of purpose can find a way to have fun in any moment of life. You’re able to take pleasure in the little things, and find joy in each moment of life, even during hard times.
  • Purpose gives you grit: with a strong sense of purpose, you have the ability to keep going even when times are hard. We all face negative experiences, and it can sometimes be difficult to keep going during these times. But having a greater sense of why you are doing what you do helps you to continue doing them even when life is fighting against you.

All in all, there are many benefits to finding a meaningful life. It is something that we should all aspire to if we have not gotten there already.

The Benefits of Purpose: My Conclusion

Finding your life purpose is not always easy, and I understand that. You might even be stressed looking at this list and seeing all of the benefits that you might be missing out on.

If that is you, I counsel you to be patient. A purpose doesn’t have to be some grand thing, and it is possible to have more than one purpose at a time.

And sometimes a purpose isn’t related to your job or career path. It is perfectly acceptable for your purpose to be caring for children, or volunteering in your community. Even searching for purpose can be a purpose in its own right.

Whatever the case, I know you can find one. And if you don’t think so, just start. Pick something, anything and move toward it. As you do so, you will soon discover if that thing is related to your purpose or not. But you will never know until you try.