Does your life have purpose?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Never let it be said that we don’t address life’s big questions here in Personality Quiz. Today, we ask “does your life have purpose?”. To find out, please answer the following questions on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them

I think about the future, rather than living one day at a time

I rarely or never experience the feeling that I’ve done all there is to do in life

The average score, across a nationally representative sample of 7,000 participants in the US (led by psychologist Patrick Hill from Carleton University in Canada) was 5.5/7. So if you scored 5 or less, you count as something of a drifter. If you scored 6 or 7, congratulations, you are more purposeful than the average American. You may live longer too. Although published in 2014, Hill’s study was actually a longitudinal study, with participants originally completing the questionnaire at the turn of the millennium. The study found found that longevity of respondents (around 9% died during the 14-year period) was linked to higher scores on sense of purpose. Although correlation does not demonstrate causation, the relationship between purposefulness and longevity was still significant after taking into account elements such as age at the start of the study, gender and education. The lesson is clear: If you want to live a long life, live a life that’s purposeful.

 

The average score, across a nationally representative sample of 7,000 participants in the US was 5.5/7. So if you scored 5 or less, you count as something of a drifter. If you scored 6 or 7, congratulations, you are more purposeful than the average American. And congratulations are indeed in order: A led by Psychologist Patrick Hill from Carleton University in Canada found that people with higher scores on this mini questionnaire actually lived longer (more than 500 people died over the 14-year course of the study, so we are not making generalizations on the basis of a handful of cases here). And although – of course – correlation does not demonstrate causation, the relationship between purposefulness and longevity held after controlling for a laundry list of potential confounds including age at the start of the study, gender, education, being part of an ethnic minority group, happiness, sadness, and having positive relationships with other people. The lesson is clear: If you want to live a long life, live a life that’s purposeful.

 

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

1 Comment

  1. This is an amazing post,do you think there lies a problem in how we allocate our time to different psychological time of past present and future?Cause to me those living along future psychological time are more likely to succeed than those living in past and present psychological times.

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