Meaning in life promotes flourishing
A worthwhile life predicts diverse health and well-being benefits
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) offered an opportunity to evaluate links between a meaningful life and a host of health and well-being factors. ELSA included a representative sample of British adults age 50 and older at baseline. British researchers Andrew Steptoe and Daisy Fancourt used data from 7,304 participants in Wave 6 (2012) with follow-up during Wave 8 in 2016. All participants answered the following question on a scale ranging from 0 (not at all) to 10 (very): To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
Compared to participants who answered with either 0 or 1, those who answered with either 9 or 10 had significantly healthier results for nine health variables, ten biomarkers and aspects of physical capability, five health behaviors, and five time-use variables. These results accounted for baseline conditions. Higher worthwhile living ratings predicted significantly less self-rated health as fair/poor, less limiting longstanding illness, less chronic disease, fewer depressive symptoms, fewer impaired activities of daily life, fewer impaired instrumental activities of daily life, and less chronic pain.
Examples of improved physical capability included stronger hand grip, lower likelihood of objectively measured obesity and central adiposity, and greater gait speed. Improved health behaviors included more moderate and vigorous physical activity, less sedentary behavior, greater fruit and vegetable consumption, and greater likelihood of rating sleep as good/very good. In addition, higher worthwhile living ratings predicted more time with friends/family, less time alone, less TV time, more time walking/exercising, and more time working/volunteering. Quite the list! Smoking was the only factor that wasn’t significantly linked to higher worthwhile living ratings.
The effect sizes were modest but impressively broad. Doing worthwhile things predicted a wide array of desirable social, economic, heath, biological, and behavioral factors, regardless of baseline conditions. Steptoe and Fancourt summarized their research as follows: “The feeling that life is filled with worthwhile activities may promote healthy aging and help sustain meaningful social relationships and optimal use of time at older ages.” Adopting the healthy choice of Live with Purpose may help older people extend their Quality of Lifespan – living better and longer.