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Choosing a path in life is not that easy. Many people hesitate and, when in doubt, carry on life without future plans. Opting for a Taoist style, however, has consequences. Science has proven that choosing a purpose in life increases longevity. Two researchers – Patrick Hill, at Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada, and Nicholas Turiano, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, in the United States – decided to investigate and measure the size of this benefit in adults.

The two researchers analyzed data from the ‘Midlife in the United States’ study, funded by the National Institute on Aging. Hill and Turiano had access to more than 6,000 testimonials on the purpose of life and impressions of positive and negative emotions. They discovered that 14 years after those questions were asked, people who had reported a greater sense of purpose and direction in life had a 15% lower risk of death in comparison to those with unclear objectives. And, according to Hill, it didn’t seem to matter at what age people found their direction.

Since this is a very subjective question, purpose in life has very different meanings and dimensions. “It can be as simple as making sure one’s family is happy,” says Hill. “Or something bigger, like contributing to social change.” According to him, it can also have to do with producing something that’s appreciated by others, be it a text, photo, song, dance or visual arts. But for each person it functions as “a lighthouse that provides an overarching aim and direction in day-to-day lives”.

Patrick Hill’s analysis controlled for other factors known to affect longevity, like age, gender and emotional well-being. None of them trumped having a purpose in life. According to Hill, it’s not exactly clear how purpose might benefit health. But one thing is clear: purposeful individuals simply lead healthier lives. And more: “it could also be that a sense of purpose protects against the harmful effects of stress.”

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