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My Turn: The value of living with purpose

Posted: June 15, 2014 - 12:11am

A recent study by Carleton University published in Psychological Sciences shows that having a sense of purpose may add years to your life.

This study tracked the physical and mental health of more than 6,100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 75. Previous research has shown that purposefulness is a strong predictor of longevity, but this is the first time that the impact of purposefulness on mortality rates has been isolated from other influences such as wealth, retirement status and social connectedness.

Over the 14-year period of the study, 9 percent of the test group died. Those still alive scored significantly higher on self-reported purpose in life, a finding that was surprisingly consistent across all age groups.

“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says lead researcher Dr. Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada.

To see these results exemplified in Alaska, one need look no further than former Constitutional Delegate Vic Fischer. He just turned 90 and what did he do to celebrate his birthday? He transformed the occasion of his birthday into a fundraiser for the effort to repeal the oil tax giveaway.

Not missing a chance to keep fighting for the values contained in Alaska’s constitution, Fischer proclaimed, “Today, we are engaged in a second battle for statehood, for control of our own resources. Multinational interests with unlimited resources want to take our oil without meeting the constitutional promise that Alaskans receive the ‘maximum benefit’ from resource development. We can’t afford to go back to the days when we were a colony for wealthy outsiders.”

With this strong sense of purpose, Fischer is well on his way to 100. Those who’ve read his autobiography know that Fischer found his sense of purpose early in life – planning Alaska’s cities as a young adult. According to the longevity study, this too may also be connected to Fisher’s vibrant life as one of Alaska’s elder statesman. Having a sense of purpose was consistently linked to longer life across all age categories, leading Dr. Hill to believe that “the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.”

Whether or not you agree with Fischer’s politics, he is an example to all. Live your life with purpose and start early.

“Alaska has been a fabulous place to connect to people, to live one’s values, and to be of service to others,” Fischer said. “It has enriched my soul beyond anything I could ever have imagined. And it’s great to still be alive and active, in Alaska.”

Identifying one’s core purposes in life is not always easy. Following one’s purposes may be even more difficult. Yet this self-knowledge, and striving to tap the best within ourselves to reach our purposes, challenges us in ways that bring better personal heath, both mental and physical, and is likely to not only extend your longevity but raise the value of the community in which we live. For people like Vic Fischer, it can lead to making a difference for all of Alaska well in to your nineties.

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