Finding a purpose in life may, in fact, lead to a longer, healthier life.

By Kent Mulkey

Senior living professionals have observed for many years that older adults who live with purpose, gratitude and generosity seem to have a brighter smile on their faces and live about five years longer than their peers. This means you might be able to double the years you have left after you turn 75.

Finding Purpose in Life

I’m no scientist, but a study conducted by some super smart people at Harvard suggests that finding a purpose in life may, in fact, lead to a longer, healthier life. It makes plain sense – when we take our eyes off of how pathetic we may feel and focus on others, we feel better, and live with the satisfaction of making a difference in our corner of the world.

The same smart Harvard researchers studied more than 7,000 Americans over age 50 and found those who did volunteer work spent 38% fewer nights in the hospital and took better care of themselves, than non-volunteers. This is great news for older adults who, now retired, have time to explore opportunities for volunteering that they may not have had while working and chasing their kids around at dreadful youth soccer games, attending cello recitals or selling girl scout cookies.

The Sweet Spot

Those who devote at least 100 hours per year in volunteer work are more likely to exhibit positive health benefits. For older adults this means:

  • Physical benefits: Those who volunteer experience fewer chronic conditions, stay out of the hospital and are a good bet to do something really cool like live in a retirement community for many productive years.

  • Emotional benefits: Volunteering helps build empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you feel more productive. A decrease in isolation can prevent and lift depression, which is an all too common demon in senior adults.

  • Shared wisdom: Younger generations benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge older adults have acquired over the course of their lives. I know about this first hand – my 90-year-old mother tells me everything she thinks I need to know about how to live my life, and I moved out of the house 40 years ago! Hint: My mom is perhaps the most active 90+ year old I have ever known; she volunteers close to 1,000 hours per year.

  • Spiritual purpose: For many, serving is a part of a lifelong journey to fulfill a spiritual calling to be salt and light in the world. A quotable person said, “The most important things in life are not things.”  

It’s people that matter. You matter. The people you serve matter. There’s no longer way to live.