The Magic Of Purpose & Living Longer In A Healthy Career:
When we think of what makes up good health, a lot of the time “eat right & exercise” is what comes up.
But as any Taoist or businessman might tell you, there is both risk and opportunity on many sides of many equations.
So this brings us to something a little bit more “out there”.
Just as researchers are discovering that psychology can impact health, say in the form of stress,
They’re also finding that woo-woo things like meditation can impact it too.
Still further and deeper than that is something much more personal that teams like those from BU and others find can make a difference to the length and quality of your life, too…
The Short Answer:
- Sometimes good health can be more than just “eat right & exercise.”
- The Whitehall Study is a good indicator for the right kind of stress vs the wrong kind at work.
- Tim Ferriss calls in the difference between Eustress and Distress.
- A team from BU examined 13,000+ responses from subjects over 50 on a self-reported questionnaire.
- They also paired this with longevity and socioeconomic data.
- Subjects with the highest reported levels of purpose had the lowest rates of early-mortality. (15.2%)
- Subjects with the lowest levels of purpose had twice the rate of early-mortality! (36.5%)
- The study authors speculate that this may be a more complex phenomenon than just down to the individual level.
- One study showed changes in the expression of thousands of genes from meditation.
- Other work suggests genetic expression changes from mindset or environment are small.
- Still other work shows people who are more optimistic and wealthier live longer.
- These factors may intersect with purpose.
- And people who are happier tend to engage in more self-care and live longer also.
- So perhaps purpose is a mix of all those factors, just more tied to a person’s career.
- The Japanese idea of Ikigai sums this up well.
Read on to find out the details…
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So works like The Whitehall Study have warned us about the dangers of a toxic workplace before.
Specifically, they’ve cautioned us against even low-grade long term stress that comes from an unresolvable situation with few degrees of control.
And even if it’s not only from work, there are a few pieces of research out there that suggest stress is not healthy.
Or to qualify it more, “Distress as opposed to Eustress” as Tim Ferriss would say it.
So if self-focusing of meditation can help us, and the “Eustress” of taking on a positive challenge can, too.
Then what about something like that as a lifestyle?
That’s where Koichiro Shiba’s research from BU comes in.
Because his lab work is picking up where ancient philosophy left off on the subject of Purpose.
Which is perhaps the intersection of career and meaning, or something like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Meaningful Work”.
What Shiba’s team looked at was people who had that combination and what their outcomes were like.
To do that, they used data from subjects in the Health & Retirement study.
This was self-reported work that covered more than 13,000 people at the age of 50 and over.
The assessment tool used is called The Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale.
It’s a widely-used set of measurements that looks at several different aspects of well-being in a person’s life.
But here’s where things get interesting.
The researchers also paired this with other data on early mortality for about 8 years,
And also other information on socio-economic-standing in terms of education, income, & wealth.
What they found was:
1) Subjects with the highest sense of reported purpose had the lowest risk of early mortality.
1a) This was about a 15.2% risk.
2) Subjects with the lowest sense of purpose had the highest risk.
2a) This was a little more than double at 36.5%, which is fairly-staggering
3) Increases in socio-economic-standing were also associated with a greater sense of purpose.
4) These results held true regardless of demographics.
So as the study authors hint, purpose itself might not be some silly notion or psychological artifact.
It could end up being a complex force that not only is exerted on the individual,
But has multiple interactions across a person’s life and career that make a real difference.
-Like HALF the rate of early-mortality difference.
So the BU study is one that adds to a growing body of work.
And although there are still some detractors out there, it might indicate a return to something more like Psychosomatic Medicine.
Free your mind, and your health will follow!
For example when it comes to causation, there is a tug of war between some who say the epigenetic changes will be small,
And others like the study on meditation who say that when you put yourself in a new situation, different genes are turned off or on.
In those cases, they postulate you don’t just become a different person through experience. You are a different person right down to the gene-expression level!
So aside from the ping-pong over gene-expression argument,
What are some other ways this huge difference in early-mortality could come about?
Some other studies have shown:
1) Purposeful study subjects potentially had lower long-term levels of stress hormones
2) They also probably had less total stress, and toxic-stress, too
3) They also had less chronic inflammation
The characteristics of Meaningful Work that can factor hugely in purpose include a type of proactive optimism.
Here are a few:
1) Something you deliberately, willingly, choose
2) Something you can improve at as you go
3) A profession & path with some control over your circumstances
But other work shows that more successful people, who might also have some more sense of choice, tend to live longer too.
Previous work on people who are happy shows they engage in all kinds of pro-health behaviors not limited to just some speculative change in genetic expression.
So there are a variety of factors that could come together like the center of a Japanese Ikigai diagram, all of which could complete the mystical equation of purpose becoming a good, long, life.
• Source: BU
• More Coverage: Environmental Epigenetics | Behavioral Epigenetics
• Source Study: Am.J.Prev.Med – Associations Between Purpose in Life and Mortality by SES