According to research from Washington University in St. Louis, people with a higher sense of purpose tend to engage in healthier lifestyle choices and are more likely to feel better about their own health status .
The study, published recently in the Journal of Health Psychology, evaluated data from the long-running Hawaii Longitudinal Study of Personality and Health. 749 Hawaii study participants were initially surveyed as children and have been re-contacted as adults to complete surveys approximately every two years.
According to Patrick Hill, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis:
Participants reporting a higher sense of purpose also reported a greater likelihood to enact all health behaviors of interest and higher self-rated health. Overall, these findings point to the importance of considering healthy lifestyle habits as a prominent explanation for why purposeful individuals experience better health outcomes.
Study participants completed measures of sense of purpose, health behaviors and self-reported health, which were combined with their self-reports on the Big Five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism — from a survey conducted two years earlier.
Participants also responded to a series of health behavior questions, such as how often they ate healthy vegetables, how well they slept and whether they flossed routinely. They also rated how often in a typical week they engaged in strenuous or moderate exercise, such as: running/jogging vs. walking; surfing/kayaking/windsurfing vs. sailing; basketball vs. volleyball; vigorous swimming vs. easy swimming, etc.
The findings provide further evidence that the health benefits associated with sense of purpose cannot be fully attributable to the big five personality traits. Having a purpose in life can be viewed as a subjective product of thought consisting of many aspects that influences both conscious personal management and specific behaviors, such as physical activity, sleep quality, diet and self-care. Indeed, having a purpose-driven life may also be a healthier life.