June 21, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

For Health, Seek a Purpose-Driven Life

Elderly people who have a sense of purpose live longer, reported Science Daily.
    Scientists at Rush University Medical Center monitored 1,238 community-living seniors for five years in order to test the hypothesis that purpose in life affects mortality.  “Purpose in life,” explained research leader Patricia Boyle, “reflects the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and be focused and intentional.”  After adjusting for other factors, the team found that persons with a high sense of purpose were half as likely to die during the monitoring period.
    The statistics held across racial differences, income, and other medical conditions.  To flourish, to age successfully, we need to have a sense that our lives matter, the team found.  The study did not factor in religious commitment, but asked participants for their feelings about these statements:

  1. I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life.
  2. I used to set goals for myself, but that now seems like a waste of time.
  3. My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.

Boyle was excited about the results of the study because it shows that people can take positive steps to improve their well-being.  “Although we think that having a sense of purpose in life is important across the lifespan, measurement of purpose in life in older persons in particular may reveal an enduring sense of meaningfulness and intentionality in life that somehow provides a buffer against negative health outcomes,” she said.

It’s very difficult to account for all the factors in statistical surveys such as this, but it stands to reason that a will to live for a purpose is a healthy attitude.  It doesn’t mean your cancer will not kill you, or that you will necessarily outlive a depressed person, but we should employ all the strategies we can for healthy living.
    A weakness of studies like this is the lack of accounting for the object of purposefulness.  It’s like saying that having faith is good.  Faith in what?  Not all faith is healthy or wise.  Some faith is stupid.  Some is dangerous.  Should we have faith that when we leap out the window we will fly?  The key to healthy purposefulness is having the right object for it.  For a negative example, what if your purpose was to hurt as many people as you can before you die?  or to indulge in all the vain pleasures you can, like some Hollywood movies portray the good life of a terminally ill patient?  It would be hard to consider one’s last breath satisfying if that is all there is to life, and there is no hope beyond.
    How would a sense of purpose evolve?  This study would make no sense in a Darwinian world view.  An evolutionary biologist would have to pity an elderly person believing he or she has purpose.  Why?  Because to an evolutionist, such things are an illusion.  But if that were true, why have a purpose to be a scientist?  Evolutionary “purpose” defeats itself.
    There’s only one purpose that matters: to know Who put you here, and to please Him.  He alone knows what makes us tick.  He wrote the Operations Manual.  He revealed how He is to be found, and what we are supposed to be doing in life.
    Before we can live a healthy purpose-filled life, we have to realize that we have the wrong purpose by default.  We all desire to please ourselves.  We have an innate tendency to choose the wrong path.  We have to turn around, admit our lostness, and receive His pardon purchased by Christ on the cross.  Then we can have confidence that our lives matter.  Paul wrote about this eloquently in I Corinthians 15 (a very appropriate passage for this entry).  This chapter is all about purpose and the justification for purpose.  If Christ did not rise from the dead, Paul said, then we are of all men most pitiable – we should eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, if the dead are not raised.  But because Christ died and rose again, He can raise us to eternal life with the same power He had in his resurrection.  That eternal life doesn’t start when you die; it begins the moment you trust Him for it.  What’s more, it begins a relationship with your Maker in which you can join in His purpose for the world.  The purpose He gives is not just an emotion or illusion.  It really matters.  Paul concluded, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  When you know your labor is not in vain, you have joy!  You can go at your work with enthusiasm.  That’s healthy.
    Are you elderly and feeling worthless?  Maybe not yet (but see Ecclesiastes 12).  Are you agreeing with those three fatalistic questions the researchers asked?  Consider the Creator’s purpose for you.  Your life matters to him.  Don’t waste your life on earthly things that don’t satisfy (read the book of Ecclesiastes for the ultimate example).  You were made on purpose for purpose.  Even if you are old or infirm, there is always something you can do.  You can pray, for instance.  You can be an example of endurance.  You can encourage others.  Read our online book for a real-life testimony.  When your prayer includes Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, you have solid ground for a meaningful, joyful purpose that will help you flourish in life, and that will outlast the grave.

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