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Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully.
Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.
- A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
- Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
- The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
The need for meaning seems to be intrinsic to human beings. The question of what meaning life has, if any, and how to live a life in accordance with that goes back to the earliest days of philosophy and defined the work of some of the most famous names in the business. A new study reminds us of the practical nature of the question and the importance of answering it, as it seems people who feel they are living a worthwhile life have better outcomes in just about every other aspect of their lives.
A meaningful life correlates with health and wealth
According to the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, older adults in England who self-reported that their lives were worthwhile were healthier, wealthier, more active, and sleeping better than participants who reported that their lives were not very worthwhile.
Over the course of four years, more than 7000 adults over the age of 50 in the UK were asked to participate in the study. They rated how meaningful they supposed their lives were on a scale of 0-10 and then answered other questions relating to their habits. Health values were measured during an in-home meeting with a nurse who took blood samples.
Of course, the study shows correlation and not causation. However, the results do remain after accounting for other factors like sex, age, and socio-economic status; suggesting that there is something of substance to the findings.
What things were the well-off people doing? I’m asking for a friend.
In short, they were out doing things and not sitting at home.
More specifically, they were spending less time in front of the television or sitting alone and more time out with friends. They were engaged with civic or cultural activities, were doing more volunteer work, exercised more, and ate better.
Of particular interest to the authors was the social engagement of the participants. Co-author Dr. Andrew Steptoe told Psychology Today that:
"I'm struck by the consistency of associations between these feelings [of living a meaningful life] and social and cultural activity. On the other hand, the people who had low ratings tended to spend a lot of time alone. They tend to watch television more and do more passive activities."
Precisely what you do might not be the essential thing, so long as you find it meaningful. This is a popular idea supported by many people including psychologist Viktor Frankl, who famously thought the important thing was finding meaning to your life even to the point of dictating to patients what meaning their lives might have.
Study co-author Dr. Daisy Fancourt agrees with the idea that it might be the belief in meaning that matters and said:
"We do not know what activities the participants in this study thought were worthwhile. For some it might be supporting their families, for others a particular accomplishment in their work or hobby, enjoying nature or perhaps following a favorite sports team. What is important is that the individual finds these activities worthwhile and feels they give a sense of meaning to life."
How can I use this information?
A portion of a graph from the study showing the association of higher well being ratings, here listed in blocks from lowest to highest, with a variety of health outcomes and social engagement levels.
Credit: Steptoe and Fancourt
The study found that people with a strong sense of having a worthwhile life but lower scores in other areas saw marked improvement by the end of the study. This means that somebody who was inactive or uninvolved at the start of the study was more likely to start exercising or become more socially active than a similar test subject who didn't think their life had meaning.
Dr. Steptoe sees this activity as part of a larger cycle that can be harnessed for our improvement or detriment:
"The sorts of things we do are going to be influencing these judgments of the purpose and worthwhileness of what we do in life. But those things in turn are going to be either stimulating or inhibiting future activities. It's a virtuous circle."
The authors also suggest that the findings could be used to help promote the well-being of older adults, an increasingly important issue as the number of older people continues to increase. However, since this study shows only a correlation between welfare and the idea of a worthwhile life, further research is needed before an effective program can be devised.
Is the key to living a healthy, engaging, and worthwhile life the belief that your life is meaningful? While the jury is still out, the results of this study suggest that it can't hurt. So go on, get out a little more. Spend more time with friends, family, and organizations you support. While it may not put all your existential dread to rest, it might help keep you healthy in your old age.
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.