Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Purpose for life over a lifespan

Written by Aja Jones, B.A. candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

In the Summer Research Program, Aging & Neurological Diseases Track, one of our program mentors, Patrick Hill, PhD, discussed the connection between healthy aging and a continuous development of an individual’s purpose for life. I was tasked with thinking of how someone’s purpose for life could change and shift as they grow older. When does an individual’s purpose for life develop? Surely one’s purpose for life is different, even if only slightly, at the age of 70 than at the age of 16.

Aja Jones at Missouri Botanical Garden

Dr. Hill shared the following findings with our cohort: older adults who remain purposeful and goal-directed as they age have better interpersonal relationships, higher levels of income, and are less affected by everyday negative stressors. These findings are incredibly important when we consider just how much of the population is going to be an older adult in upcoming years.

In 2016, only 15.2% of the population was an adult over the age of 65. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2060 the percentage of adults over the age of 65 is projected to be as high as 23.4%. Dr. Brian Carpenter demonstrated this to our cohort on the very first day of our program by showing us graphics, side-by-side comparisons, and various tables and charts regarding the realities of aging. He honed in on the idea that even though aging is an individual experience, it has broader implications that impact loved ones, institutions, and society as a whole. If almost one fourth of our population is going to be above 65 years old in 2060, I hope that many of those people have a strong sense of purpose and drive in their lives.

During Dr. Hill’s presentation, he encouraged our cohort to not only view one’s life purpose as needing to be grand and on a large-scale. He called this ‘Purpose with a capital P”. He wanted us to also think on a micro-level: an individual’s purpose for life can simply be being able to play with their grandkids. The magnitude of one’s purpose does not matter so much as the presence of said purpose. I truly enjoyed listening to Dr. Hill’s research and he opened the door for me to consider how my own purpose for life will develop as I grow and change.