Your Search For Meaning Throughout Your Life May Affect Your Well-Being

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Do you have meaning in your life?

Image by Trinette Reed / Stocksy

Feeling like there's meaning to your life isn't just a fluffy philosophical pursuit. A growing body of research suggests having meaning in life can actually affect a person's physical and mental well-being.

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry analyzed three years of data on over 1,000 adults, spanning from age 21 to over 100 years old. In addition to information about their health, these folks were asked about the degree to which they related to statements like "I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life" and "I have discovered a satisfying life purpose."

The results showed having meaning in your life is linked to better physical and mental health. However, feeling like you're still searching for your meaning was associated with worse mental health and cognitive functioning. 

"Meaning in life is associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity," Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., one of the researchers behind the study and professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine, said in a news release. "Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it. … When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don't have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out."

Interestingly, there was a correlation between age and meaning in the form of an upside-down U-shaped relationship. Younger people in the study tended to not feel like they had meaning in their lives but meaning seemed to increase with age, peaking at age 60.

"When you are young, like in your twenties, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life," Jeste explained. "As you start to get into your thirties, forties and fifties, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you're settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases."

But after age 60, the presence of meaning decreased. "After age 60, things begin to change," Jeste said. "People retire from their job and start to lose their identity. They start to develop health issues and some of their friends and family begin to pass away. They start searching for the meaning in life again because the meaning they once had has changed."

What's important to know here is that having a sense of meaning in your life really is important and can affect your health, at any age. That said, a person's sense of meaning does tend to change over the course of their lives, and even once you feel like you have a ton of purpose in your life, that can all change with circumstance.

No matter how old you are, finding and having a sense of meaning can be a powerful force for your health in the long term. It's a goal worth prioritizing.

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