The question of what leads to good emotional, psychological and ultimately physical health has often been posed by therapists, psychologists and the general population. Recent studies have shown a particular light on the development of "meaning" as one of the key factors in the development and maintenance of well-being.
Over the last three decades, meaning in life has emerged as an important question in medical research, especially in the context of an aging population. A recent study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that the presence of and search for meaning in life are important for health and well-being, though the relationships differ in adults younger and older than age 60.
"Many think about the meaning and purpose in life from a philosophical perspective, but meaning in life is associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity," said senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it."
The study, publishing online in the December 10, 2019 edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found the presence of meaning in life is associated with better physical and mental well-being, while the search for meaning in life may be associated with worse mental well-being and cognitive functioning. "When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don't have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out," said Jeste. The results also showed that the presence of meaning in life exhibited an inverted U-shaped relationship, while the search for meaning in life showed a U-shaped relationship with age. The researchers found that age 60 is when the presence of meaning in life peaks and the search for meaning of life was at its lowest point. "When you are young, like in your twenties, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life," said Jeste. "As you start to get into your thirties, forties and fifties, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you're settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases."
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