Maintaining sense of purpose in midlife predicts better physical health

Emily C. Willroth*, Daniel K. Mroczek, Patrick L. Hill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: Having a sense of purpose in life is fundamental to psychological and physical well-being. Despite the benefits of purpose, it may be difficult to hold onto purpose as people age. The present research addressed four aims: (1) to estimate average change in sense of purpose during midlife; (2) to test associations between purpose levels and later physical health; (3) to test associations between purpose change and later physical health; (4) to examine the cross-cultural generalizability of findings. Methods: We used reliable change indices to estimate change in sense of purpose during midlife in three prospective cohorts: one comprised predominately of White participants in the U.S. (N = 2692), a second predominately of African American participants in the U.S. (N = 248), and a third of Japanese participants in Tokyo (N = 644). Next, we used linear regression to examine associations between purpose levels and purpose change and later self-reported general health and chronic health conditions. Results: At the group level, purpose declined slightly across time (Cohen's ds = −0.08 to −0.17). At the individual level, 10–14% of participants reliably decreased in purpose, whereas only 6–8% of participants reliably increased in purpose. Consistent with our preregistered hypotheses, higher purpose levels predicted better health in the two larger samples (βs = 0.10–0.18, small effects) and more positive purpose change predicted better health in all three samples (βs = 0.08‐–0.22., small to medium effects). Conclusion: Together, these findings suggest that both having a sense of purpose and holding onto it may be important for physical health in middle to older adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110485
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Volume145
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Change
  • Health
  • Sense of purpose
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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