Wright Foundation | July 16, 2019

The Amazing Benefits of Living a Purposeful Life


Would you like to live a longer, healthier life?

Studies show living a purposeful life offers many surprising benefits. But what does it mean to live a life of purpose?

Would you like to be more alert? Would you like a stronger immune system and the ability to stand up to diseases such as Alzheimer’s?

While this may sound like a magic pill or a new cure-all, you can gain these benefits without taking a single prescription or vitamin. The secret is in living a purposeful life.

There are surprising benefits to living a life filled with purpose. Here’s how to bring those fantastic perks of purpose into your life today!

The Surprising Side Effects of Living a Purposeful Life

I recently led a workshop on purpose here at the Wright Foundation. It was so exciting and energizing to share the latest findings on purpose with our guests.

The research on purpose is very impressive. There are health benefits galore. Purpose strengthens your immune system. People with a sense of purpose are less likely to experience a stroke or become addicted to alcohol and drugs. Having a sense of purpose even cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, in a long-term study conducted by Rush University, a group of adults was monitored as they aged. The subjects reported their sense of purpose throughout the study. Interestingly, those who reported the highest sense of purpose in their life were twice as likely to be free of the symptoms of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The scientists studied their brains after they passed away and were surprised by what they found: purpose had protected their brains against displaying the effects of aging, even though some of their brains showed the physical signs of cognitive degeneration. According to an article on the study in the Atlantic:

What that means, according to the researchers, is that a strong sense of purpose in life strengthens or provides a higher level of what’s known as “neural reserve” in the brain. “Reserve” is the quality that allows many physiological systems in the human body to sustain what the Rush researchers call “extensive organ damage” before showing clinical deficits. Neurobiologists specializing in aging have already determined that this concept also applies to the human brain because most of us—regardless of whether we develop clinical symptoms of “Alzheimer’s disease” or not—will accumulate harmful amounts of plaque and tangles in our brains as we age. Autopsies show that. What the Rush researchers’ results indicate is that having a strong sense of purpose in life, especially beyond the age of 80, can give a person’s brain the ability to sustain that damage and continue to function at a much higher level.

Thanks to their sense of purpose, these subjects’ brains had self-corrected the neuropathways affected by age-related disease. If you think of your brain as a series of roads, it was as though their neurons had re-routed to go around the damaged portions of their brain tissue. Their brains were healthier. Further studies indicate purpose can also reduce the incidence of stroke.

These benefits are possible for anyone who is living a purposeful life. In addition to the mind-blowing cognitive benefits, there are also the benefits of emotional well-being. When you live a life of purpose, you’re more efficient, and you delegate better. Studies show you even enjoy better sex! Best of all, a sense of purpose is linked to a longer, healthier, more satisfying life.

So, how do we get more purpose? How do we bring the benefits of living a purposeful life into our own lives?

How to Live a Purposeful Life

As you read through these benefits, you’re probably thinking, “I want more of that! How do I sign up?!”

What does it mean to live a purposeful life? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

In other words, to live a purposeful life means more than merely seeking adventure and pleasure. A life of purpose is a life of meaning. It’s a life where the deep yearnings of our heart and soul are met, where we’re connected and engaged with those around us.

If you’re living mindfully and intentionally, you discover the purpose in each interaction. Finding meaning in the moment makes a huge difference in the quality of your life. Living by your yearnings is very purposeful. Fulfilling the yearning to connect, to matter, or to make a difference helps us to feel fulfilled and satisfied. Without purpose, you’re unengaged and not all that present in your day to day life. Purpose brings us into the moment.

In the longevity studies, purpose was assessed by asking whether participants agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

As you see, purpose means living your life with intention and hope. To find the purpose in what you’re doing, look at the intentions you set each day. In each moment, examine what you’re hoping to have happen. What results do you want from each experience? Asking yourself to identify the intention helps you drive your purpose and clarify your direction.

When I eat breakfast with Bob, for example, I consider our time precious. We’re both very busy, so when we get those moments to sit together, I ask myself how I will make the most of the time. How will we engage in a way that ensures our time together is more purposeful and more satisfying?

It’s not to say I always go into my time with Bob with an agenda in hand, but honestly, sometimes I do set forth a plan. I think of the topics I’m hoping to address with him—not the logistics of the day, but real, relevant, significant issues—and I set my intentions to make the most of our precious moments together.

Being purposeful is part of treating yourself well. Purpose may feel like a dry or nebulous topic, at first, but in truth, purpose is nourishing and beautiful.

When you’re living a purposeful life, you’re using your resources better. You’re maximizing your time, your money, and your leisure time. You’re imbuing your life with activities that feel good but also have meaning. Consequently, you end up with more energy and will power. You see results from your actions.

Purpose doesn’t need to feel heavy, either. Your purpose or intention could simply be to have more fun. You could set your intention to build a stronger connection with your spouse or to get to know your friends more deeply. You find purpose by appreciating an experience more fully—going to a concert and letting the music touch your heart, viewing artwork at a museum and taking time to fully take in the beauty, learning more in each experience.

When we live a life of purpose, we find more success in our relationships and more success at work. Author and behavioral scientist Victor Strecher explored the idea of purpose in his book, Life on Purpose, after his 19-year-old daughter passed away. His findings on the concept of purpose showed how it helps us in all aspects of our lives:

Living purposefully, Strecher said, means “applying your best self to what matters most”—an approach he said can have a multitude of benefits, both personally and professionally. Strecher cited several studies on the power of purpose, such as in one in which three groups of people were asked to carry a heavy backpack up a steep hill while blindfolded. The group that was told their backpacks contained nothing but dead weight assessed the hill to be a 42-degree incline—those who were told their packs were filled with important scientific equipment deemed the hill to be just 31 degrees.

When we believe our actions have meaning, work becomes easier, and our load becomes lighter. In the same vein, if we want to find more satisfaction in our work, our relationships, or our activities, we can examine the meaning. What is it we’re bringing to the world? How are we helping others?

Finding our purpose in each moment helps us live more satisfying, longer, and healthier lives. Start living vibrantly with more intention today!

Join us for our Year of More quarter on purposeful living, where we’ll explore ways to set your intentions and get more out of every single day.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.