Does having purpose play a role in your positive mental health?

Studies show older people with a purpose live longer, sleep better and have a more robust immune system, lower stress levels and better cognitive function, Mayo Clinic reported in a recent blog post.

Written by Dr. Rosean Bishop, a psychologist in Mankato, Minn., she noted that when people help others, it works to pull them out of themselves and give them a different perspective.

“At its most basic, a sense of purpose directs your actions and behaviors. It’s an abiding intention to achieve a long-term goal that’s both personally meaningful and makes a positive mark on the world,” Rosean wrote. “A sense of purpose often is other-focused, something that can improve the lives of others, something bigger than yourself. A sense of purpose is not a box you check off and move on.”

As people approach retirement, she encourages them to give some thought as to how they plan to spend their time in a meaningful way. That’s a good point. I suspect many people spend more time planning their next vacation than they do in determining what to do in retirement to bring meaning to their lives.

“Get engaged with those things that give you a sense of purpose and meaning,” Rosean wrote. “Your sense of purpose should give you satisfaction and bring you joy as you connect with and give to others.”

She offered a rather unique perspective to identifying a purpose at this stage in life, and it starts with determining the things you value most.

Science of People offers a free list of 216 different core values that are often expressed by other people. Read over the list and circle 10 or so values which resonate with you personally.

After determining which things matter most to you, Rosean suggests analyzing whether your values align with how you currently spend your time and money. She cites working with dogs as an example.

If you find fulfillment by volunteering at a local animal shelter, and caring about animals is a core value, Rosean said that indicates that dogs give you a sense of purpose.

I like her perspective. If your actions align with your values, it’s also likely that you’ll persevere when things get rough because what you’re doing is important to you.

Rosean’s blog can be found on the Mayo Clinic Health System website.