I’ve been writing this brain health blog since 2013, and it has become one of my life’s great passions – my ‘north star’. I wake up every morning buzzing with excitement about the day ahead.
Besides trying my hardest to be the best Mum and wife I can be, my passion is writing about neuroscience. My goal is to provide impeccably-researched evidence-based stories that are told in a simple, fun and compelling way.
Your ‘purpose in life’. Your north star, your passion, your bliss, your inner voice, your wisdom, your calling. What do you call it?
I believe what Mastin Kipp from The Daily Love says,
“Your bliss and your purpose are the same thing”
Chris Crowley of ‘Younger Next Year’ calls it a ‘kedge’ which is his term for ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Whatever word you choose to call it …
People who have meaning and purpose in their life have lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment in later life.
Dr David Bennett, Director of the Memory and Aging Unit at the Rush Medical Centre in Chicago, published this finding in a paper in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2010.
The project studied more than than 900 community-dwelling older people (i.e. people living in aged care facilities or residential communities) without dementia who were enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project.
All participants underwent baseline evaluations of their purpose in life, and up to 7 years of detailed annual follow-up clinical evaluations to see how if they developed Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment and to measure the rate of change in their cognitive function.
Purpose in life was defined as …
The psychological tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behaviour.
Purpose in life is linked to many positive health outcomes including :
- better mental health
- less depression
- personal growth, self-acceptance
- better sleep
To measure ‘purpose in life’ the team asked participants to rate their level of agreement from one to five, to each of the following statements…
- I feel good when I think of what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.
- I live life one day at a time and do not really think about the future.
- I tend to focus on the present because the future nearly always brings me problems.
- I have a sense of direction and purpose in life.
- My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.
- I used to set goals for myself, but that now seems like a waste of time.
- I enjoy making plans for the future and working them to a reality.
- I am an active person in carrying out the plans I set for myself.
- Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.
- I sometimes feel as if I have done all there is to do in life.
Scoring for the negatively worded items was flipped (e.g. Qs 5, 6 & 10) and item scores were averaged to give a total purpose in life score for each person, with higher scores indicating greater purpose in life.
All of the scores were adjusted (a statistical technique that takes into account other factors and ‘levels the playing field’) for depressive symptoms, neuroticism, social networks, and chronic medical conditions.
In the 7 years of the study, 155 of 951 people (16.3%) developed Alzheimer’s disease. Statistical analysis showed that greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (hazard ratio, 0.48; 95% confidence interval, 0.33-0.69; P<.001).
Or in other words…
a person with a high purpose in life score was approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain free of AD than was a person with a low purpose in life score.
A high purpose in life score was also linked to less ‘mild cognitive impairment’. Mild cognitive impairment is a long preclinical phase during which people may transition before they show sufficient symptoms be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
A high purpose in life score was also linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline in old age. And purpose in life was related a decline in semantic memory, followed by episodic memory, then perceptual speed, and working memory.
What is the biological basis of the association of purpose in life with brain health?
As yet is remains unknown. We do know that lack of purpose in life is associated with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, markers of inflammation, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (the ‘good’ cholesterol), and abdominal fat – all factors that associated with poor general health.
So, science might not yet have all the answers as to HOW purpose in life exerts an effect on the brain. But they have provided some pretty compelling evidence to foster your ‘purpose’/passion/ bliss/wisdom, or to find your north star.
How do your find your life’s purpose?
By lovely coincidence, another wellness blogger Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple was also writing about purpose and longevity recently.
Because he says it so well, here is his take on how to find your purpose, and I couldn’t agree more …
…do the list making, the rational weighing, the free from brainstorming that experts suggest. Reflect on your passions, your priorities, your values, your talents and temperament. Consider where all of these can intersect with the needs you see in the circles or society around you. Talk to friends. Take a stab at writing a personal mission statement if you’re so inclined. Mull on the question while you’re washing dishes. Fill your head with the possibilities, the pros and drawbacks, the complexities and ambiguities. But then move out of cerebral mode entirely, get out of your own way, and hand the question over to your intuitive self.
Personally, I find there’s nothing more conducive to intuitive thinking than solo time outdoors… Think the question once – and only once – as you head out “into the wild” for your mini retreat. Then forget about it for the day. Just be and do and watch and smell and head home when you’re good and ready….
One day you’ll leave with your answer. Maybe it will come to you like a vision as you round the corner of a trail one day. Maybe it will settle in quietly, almost imperceptibly until you finally notice it’s there with you. Either way, you’ll have let your answer come forth from hours of, call it, Primal meditation. Not a bad source to tap into when you’re seeking purpose – and time away worth the health benefits all on its own.