Sense of purpose and longevity

Sense of purpose is correlated with longevity. This is scientifically clear, but what does it really mean? Is the long life indicator of a lifelong mission, or people who learn to FIND purpose live longer? Can all of us learn from them, live longer and better. Learn more here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I skip statistical analysis here because I know my articles are already very long. I do not want to write a 20-pages report. As an exercise, I suggest you check the statistics of my claims. I will intentionally make a lot of simple easy-to-check claims for you to find the right numbers.

Longevity as a measure of wellbeing

Unlike all psychological elements, physiological elements are easy to check. The statistics about longevity if beyond abundant, so scientists use it to discover further things. For example, high IQ and high income correlate with longevity. This does not surprise us: smart people can avoid some stupid mistakes and rich people can buy better medicine.

However, why the sense of purpose is correlated with longevity? People who live beyond 100 are not the freedom fighters and political activists of 1960s, they are mostly simple rural dwellers.

Social ties

Most of those who live long and possibly happy lives are well integrated into their societies. They usually have a stable family for the majority of their adult life. They have friends who usually talk to them, and kids who take care of them when they are sick.

It has been shown that children of divorcees, families without kids, and people who never marry on average die younger.

Being there for your loved ones is a powerful motivator. It is important to care not just about the things in our lives, but helping others and building a legacy.

Evolutionary reason

If you think we are here to have fun and enjoy life, I think you have been deceived by the all-powerful capitalist marketing. We are here because our ancestors were slightly more successful and significantly luckier than their peers. Having around a caring elderly adult with a century of experience was a strategical asset. A selfish and self-absorbed elderly person was a liability.

Both individuals and entire cultures needed to survive. They provided all effective team members with food, care, and everything needed for longivity. All the ineffective team members could do for their team was to die quietly, possibly drifting on an iceberg into the ocean.

Do we have some sort of a self-destruct mechanism activated when we are of no use to others? Quite possibly. Depression and suicide are often related to a meaningless life.

Physical labor

Many of those who live beyond 100 work in agriculture. There are several reasons why agricultural work could be helpful. Working under the sun generates vitamin D and in some cases cancer. Physical activity is great for the body. The food is natural, organic, simple, and usually good: not too salty or too sugary. You also get to see the results of your work. If you plant grain, you will harvest it within several months. When you plant trees, you need to wait several years, but there is a huge satisfaction when you see the fruits of your labor.

On the other hand, there could also be very little connection. A hundred years ago there were many agricultural workers, but now most of us provide services. A hundred years from now some scientists might explain why providing services is the best way to live longer.

Reminder: please do your exercise and collect your own data. Maybe I am wrong? For example. Here are statistics for 150 years ago. Bank officers and judges had the longest lives, followed by agriculture workers.  Everybody else rarely lived beyond 60. And here is an article claiming that skilled qualified professionals nowadays live longer.

Protect your people.

Some of the people who had a long life survived multiple wars. Maybe even fought in multiple conflicts. From all the professions, military generals tend to have the longest lives.

Possibly this is because people who choose military lifestyle are usually athletically built. They practice discipline and stay in shape long after the discharge.

Generals tend to be very resilient. People who are careless enough to get killed in action or sensitive enough to suffer PTSD do not tend to become generals.  Maybe generals need the activity and have a very high “good stress” requirement. Alternatively, they might move on for the greater good. Losing generals may tend to commit suicides, but not the winning ones.

Protect people. Risk your life for those you care about. This is a gamble, but the stakes are in your favor. Unless you serve in a submarine, things are likely to turn out fine.

Teach others

Scientists tend to enjoy a very respectable life span rivaling generals, but school teachers tend to die young.  This is also a factor of stress and income.

A scientist often continues to research, publish papers, and teach young people for as long as he lives. Being surrounded by young people in need of wisdom is invigorating. Scientists and religious leaders are as close as one can get to the position of old wise shaman in a primitive society. This is why humans have among the longest life spans among all creatures.

As much as physical activity is great for your body, the intellectual activity might be even more important for your brain.

Suffer with dignity

You do not really need to suffer, in fact you can live a very long and happy life. This is basically a lottery. Most of us get some losing tickets and acquire various painful conditions.

We will get painkillers, and if we are lucky enough medical marihuana. The medical grass is probably significantly healthier than the chemical competition provided by large pharma companies, at least in terms of the expected side effects. The next line of defense is religion, which was called by Lenin “opium for the people”.

Religious people find purpose in their suffering. And this is a good thing. Religion will add an extra 6.5 years to your lifespan. Scientists suggest various causes: a more stable family, more volunteer activity. some stress-reducing practices. As a hypothesis, I suggest that there is an extra element of finding deep meanings in life’s suffering.

When everything else may depend on your lucky stars, suffering with dignity is something in our control.

Leaving a legacy

In old age, loneliness and depression are silent killers. People may lose discipline and energy required for sports, a healthy diet, intellectual activity, and proper hygiene. Legacy does not allow us to give up. We feel that we MUST fight and work to complete a certain project. These projects become our life purpose, and they also keep us alive.

There are all kinds of legacy. We already mentioned scientific work, caring for the land, patriotic duties, and family ties. Artistic activity, like writing or painting, can also create a legacy.  Some artists die very young maybe even joining club 27. Others discover artistic activities enjoying pension and they tend to live long…

Small joys

Many happy people find their joy in very small simple things. A walk in nature, a perfect coffee, petting an animal.  Small pleasures are a more reliable purpose than a huge fight.

This does not mean that rebels and freedom fighters always die young. Fidel Castro was very high, smoked like a chimney, had sex with thousands of ladies, drank constantly, and yet he enjoyed a respectful life of 90 years.

By the way, notice that 20 cm lower height may result in 10 more years to your life. Smoking takes another 10 years off your lifespan, with cigars being healthier than alternatives.  Moderate drinking is actually good for longevity. And sex appears to be good for longevity, either as sports or as relaxation.

Self-sacrifice vs self-love

We tend to see those qualities as alternatives, but that is probably a misconception. Both are correlated with longevity, and often one leads to the other. When we are needed, we tend to value ourselves higher. The more we value our own contribution, the more likely we become to help others [this one is my hypothesis].

Humility is a very useful value. It means that we cannot hoard all credit for being the people we are.  We also should not risk our self-love, confidence, and value in any pissing competitions. And we should help others to preserve our self-love. As far as I understand, you cannot lose with that one. Possibly it will make you less popular with ladies, but your bond with your lifelong partner will only get stronger.

This aspect actually deserves a dedicated article. In the future, maybe…

If you cannot actively help others, you may invite others to help you. Be grateful. This way you provide others with yet another purpose and allow THEM to have longer and happier lives.

old man thinking

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