Finding meaning in life is a topic philosophers are intrigued by and, increasingly, now medical researchers are too

Over the last 30 years, ‘meaning in life’ has emerged as an important question in medical research, especially in the context of an ageing population.

A recent study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that the presence of and search for meaning in life are important for health and well-being, though the relationships differ in adults younger and older than age 60.

Finding meaning in life is linked to better health

“Many think about the meaning and purpose in life from a philosophical perspective, but meaning in life is associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity,” says senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it.”

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The study found that the presence of meaning in life is associated with better physical and mental well-being, while the unsuccessful search for meaning in life may be associated with worse mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

“When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don’t have a purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out,” says Dr Jeste.

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Finding meaning in life at different ages

The results also showed that the presence of meaning in life exhibited an inverted U-shaped relationship, while the search for meaning in life showed a U-shaped relationship with age.

The researchers found that age 60 is when the presence of meaning in life peaks and the search for the meaning of life was at its lowest point.

“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,” says Dr Jeste. “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.”

After age 60, things begin to change. 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.

The three-year, cross-sectional study examined data from 1 042 adults, aged 21 to 100-plus, who were part of the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) – a multi-cohort study of senior residents living in San Diego County. The presence and search for meaning in life were assessed with interviews, including meaning in life questionnaire where participants were asked to rate items such as, “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”

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Source: University of California – San Diego via www.sciencedaily.com

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