Sense of Purpose Helps Us Stay Healthy, Living Longer

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Amy Anderson's story touched a lot of people on the FOX 5 Atlanta Facebook page. After she and her husband lost their baby Bryson at 20 weeks, the Caribou, Maine mom honored his memory, by pumping and donating her breast milk for 8 months, 92 gallons of it. It was given to premature babies in neonatal intensive care units across 5 states and 3 countries.

Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says finding a sense of purpose like Anderson did may help us live a longer, healthier life.

"The beautiful thing about purpose and meaning is that it's different for each person,” says Dr. Bergquist. “And I think each person has to find what's right for them."

Not sure what your sense of purpose is?  Dr. Bergquist recommends an exercise that will take you about an hour.  She says start by sitting down and making a list of what in your life really matters to you.  What do you love?  What do you feel strongly about?

"And some of those things you're going to put down on paper or on the computer, and you're going to have a very neutral reaction to,” Bergquist says. “ So those are really things you thought you should put down on paper. And then there is some that you'll put down and you feel really energized by them. And those are the ones that really resonate with your inner soul, with your core being."

And, new research shows feeling like our life matters may help us stay healthier and live longer.  Researchers have found older people who rate their sense of purpose as strong have a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease than their peers who report less of a sense of purpose.

It’s not clear exactly how finding meaning in our lives boosts our health.  But, Dr. Bergquist says we know problems like stress, anxiety and depression can negatively impact our health.

She believes a sense of purpose does just the opposite: it makes us more resilient.  Bergquist says researchers believe it may also lower stress levels and boost the immune system.

Bergquist says the good news is that we’re not born with a sense of purpose.  We just have to find it.

"So think it's important to look for other ways where you feel engaged, you feel you add value,” she says. “I think the key is to match your skills and talents where you feel you are able to make a contribution."