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Invited Commentary
October 2017

The Benefits of Purposeful Life Engagement on Later-Life Physical Function

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Wisconsin, Madison
JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(10):1046-1047. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2136

Although psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have long been studied as factors that contribute to poorer health (broadly defined) over time, it is only in the last few years that psychological strengths have emerged as having possible protective influences on health. One such strength is purpose in life, which was first formulated from the life experiences of Victor Frankl, who spent 3 years in a Nazi concentration camp.1 He saw purpose in life as having life-saving features and went on to develop a form of psychotherapy based on it. What does purpose in life mean? It is about reflective activities in which individuals perceive their existence to be meaningful and to include goals for which they live. Sometimes, this takes proactive efforts. In 1989, I developed a structured, self-report scale to measure purpose in life,2 along with 5 other dimensions of psychological well-being. Since then, more than 500 publications have grown up around this model of well-being. Components of it have been linked to a host of other domains (aging, work and family life, personality, health, and interventions).3 However, without question, the greatest amount of new science that has taken well-being in the direction of health has involved purpose in life. Frankl, a psychiatrist by training, saw it was essential for sustaining life, particularly under conditions of adversity. A growing body of evidence suggests he was probably right.

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