Living With Purpose Yields a Longer Life and Higher Income

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Purpose isn’t just a virtue confined to ear-burrowing pop songs and best-selling self-help books: According to a pair of studies, it approximates the proximity of your grave and the size of your bank account.

As noted on Minds for Business, both studies were done by Patrick Hill at Carleton University in Canada and Nicholas Turiano at West Virginia University. They used a national, longitudinal survey called Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) as their data set for each.

The first study, published in 2014 in Psychological Science, looked at longevity. MIDUS, as longevity studies do, revisited participants in different “waves” of research. In this case, that was 14 years after the initial survey, and about 9 percent of the 6,000-person sample had died. After controlling for well-being, age, and retirement, purposeful people — those who agreed with the survey statement “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them” and disagreed with “I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future” — were more likely to outlive their directionless peers.

Their 2016 follow-up in the Journal of Research in Personality expanded on that finding, this time using a 4,660-person sample from MIDUS and a nine-year gap between waves. Purpose was again a big predictor: A standard deviation in purpose score translated to an increase of $4,461 in income and $20,857 in net worth over the study’s time period, from about 1995 to 2004.

In their discussion, the authors reason that since purpose is linked with greater engagement in day-to-day life, its role in financial success “may result from the greater capability and propensity for purposeful individuals to pursue their long-term goals, which in turn promotes the accrual of assets.” Put another way: Purpose is at the intersection of hope and grit.

Living With Purpose Yields a Longer Life and Higher Income