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Want to know the meaning of life? It starts with health.
A new study discovered that lack of purpose leads to earlier death.
- In a study of nearly 7,000 individuals, those without a sense of purpose were more likely to die sooner.
- Interestingly, those without meaning were more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
- Simply put, purpose produces better health.
What is the meaning of life? This question has caused thinkers to wax poetic for eons. Viktor Frankl believed that suffering provided meaning; Joseph Campbell thought each of us brings our own meaning, and that the question itself is meaningless; for Woody Allen it required finding "an antidote for the emptiness of existence." For Douglas Adams, it was quite simple: the final answer is 42 (and he likely didn't mean Jackie Robinson).
While we can debate the meaning forever, what is critically important, according to a new study published in JAMA Current Open, is that we have a meaning of life.
Between the years of 2006-2010, data from 6,985 individuals above age 51 (mean age: 68.6) were studied. The information was compiled from the Health and Retirement Study, a public resource that has been gathering data on aging since 1990.
The researchers discovered that people with a sense of purpose were much less likely to die from all-cause mortality. More interestingly, those without meaning were more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
Celeste Leigh Pearce, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, claims that after this research she moved from skepticism to curiosity, amazed that mindset could have such a profound biological impact.
"I approached this with a very skeptical eye. I just find it so convincing that I'm developing a whole research program around it."
Previous studies have correlated a strong sense of purpose in life with reduced sleep disturbances, fewer strokes (and better recovery from strokes), less depression, and stronger tolerance of diabetes. Prior research has also looked into the relationship between mortality and meaning, producing similar data. Philosophy and physiology conspire.
The Science of Happiness, Motivation, and Meaning | Dan Ariely
For this research, the modified Ryff and Keyes Scale of Psychological Well-being was used. The six domains this questionnaire focuses on are autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance.
The full assessment includes 42 questions; in this instance, seven life purpose questions were asked, with a score ranging from one to six on each question. One of the statements being assessed, for context: "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them." Answers ranged from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree."
Overall, three factors (other than purpose) were shown to increase the likelihood of an earlier death: being older, male, and unmarried. Health, education, economic, gender, and ethnic factors were weighed. Regardless of those factors, respondents with a sense of purpose were less likely to die from all-cause mortality, as well as from drinking or smoking; they also exercised more.
This comes at a time when new research suggests that exercise might be a better prescription than pharmaceuticals in treating mental issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal rumination. A sense of purpose causes you to take better care of your body, creating a positive feedback loop: you feel motivated so you exercise; exercise makes you stronger and healthier. Whoever separated body and mind in the first place got it all wrong. Mindset matters, indeed.
Fuya Maeno of Japan competes on the Horizontal Bar during day two of the Artistic Gymnastics NHK Trophy at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza on May 19, 2019 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan.
Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images
The team also notes that a stronger sense of well-being is associated with a decreased expression of proinflammatory genes and a strong sense of purpose is linked with lower cortisol and lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines. The less inflammation in the body the better, as elevated levels lead to a variety of cardiovascular and immune-related issues. When your nervous system is constantly in sympathetic mode it's hard to remain composed. We pay the price with reduced time.
Simply put, purpose produces better health.
We derive meaning from all facets of life; not only religion provides it (though the most religious claim a monopoly). In fact, researchers behind this study cite volunteering and raising children as activities that produce meaning, while noting that well-being therapy and meditation have been shown to increase quality and purpose of life.
As professor Alan Rozanski, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (who was not involved in this research but has produced his own), says, "The need for meaning and purpose is number one. It's the deepest driver of well-being there is."
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.