The age when you’re most likely to find meaning in life

The good news is that there’s a sweet spot when meaning in life generally peaks, the bad news is that it appears to be short-lived.

sense of purpose

The Monty Python crew went looking for the meaning of life in a 1983 film of the same name. Now research has found that meaning in life is pivotal to wellbeing and is age-related. The good news is that there’s a sweet spot when meaning in life peaks, the bad news is that it appears to be short-lived.

Meaning in life increases through our 40s and 50s and, for many, hits the heights at about 60, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California have found that the presence of meaning in life – as opposed to the search for it – is vital for health and wellbeing.

“Many think about the meaning and purpose in life from a philosophical perspective, but meaning in life is associated with better health, wellness and perhaps longevity,” said senior author Dr Dilip Jeste. “Those with meaning in life are happier and healthier than those without it.”

The study, publishing this month in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that the presence of meaning in life was associated with better physical and mental wellbeing. Conversely, they linked the search for meaning in life with worse mental wellbeing and cognitive functioning.

“When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don't have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out,” said Dr Jeste.


“When you are young, like in your 20s, you are unsure about your career, a life partner and who you are as a person. You are searching for meaning in life.

“As you enter your 30s, 40s and 50s, you have more established relationships, maybe you are married and have a family and you’re settled in a career. The search decreases and the meaning in life increases.

“After 60, things begin to change. People retire from their job and start to lose their identity. They start to develop health issues and some of their friends and family begin to pass away. They start searching for the meaning in life again because the meaning they once had has changed.”

The three-year, cross-sectional study examined data from 1042 adults aged 21 to 100-plus, who were part of the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) – a multi-cohort study of senior residents. The presence and search for meaning in life were assessed during interviews and a questionnaire in which participants were asked to rate such items as, “I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.”

Dr Awais Aftab, first author of the paper and a former fellow in the department of Psychiatry at the University of California, said the medical field was starting to recognise that meaning in life was a clinically relevant factor in assessing the wellbeing and functioning of patients.

“We anticipate that our findings will serve as building blocks for the development of new interventions for patients searching for purpose,” he said.

Dr Jeste said further research would look at other areas, such as wisdom, loneliness and compassion, and their effect on wellbeing.

“We also want to examine if some biomarkers of stress and ageing are associated with searching and finding the meaning in life,” he said. “It’s an exciting time in this field as we are seeking to discover evidence-based answers to some of life’s most profound questions.”

Earlier this year, a study of almost 7000 middle-aged Americans found that those without a strong life purpose were more than twice as likely to die during a five-year period – mostly from cardiovascular diseases – compared with those who had a purpose.

The findings were consistent despite levels of wealth or poverty and regardless of sex, race or education level.

Do you have a strong sense of meaning in life? Do you believe it is important to your wellbeing?

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18th Dec 2019
Ah, grasshopper - all life has meaning and purpose... you will find it.... but first must travel many pathways to seek the golden pond underneath the lucky frog (etc)... should a dragon place fire upon a village... should the village consider this surrender.. or as acceptance of the place of the dragon in this world... many are the paths and many the fellow travelers you will bump into and sometimes fall over along the way..

(just waxing lyrical for your entertainment...)
18th Dec 2019
Jeez, Igor - we're playing to a dead house here - let's split to a pub or something..
18th Dec 2019
"They start to develop health issues and some of their friends and family begin to pass away."
Could we stop using euphemisms for death? They didn't "pass away," they died. The meaning of life becomes plainer when we accept the meaning of death and tell it how it is. Death will happen to all of us.
18th Dec 2019
Nothing wrong with passing away, depends on your beliefs.
18th Dec 2019
What you call death depends on your degree of fear, not your beliefs.
20th Dec 2019
Aye - it'll be a sad world when I'm no longer here... no more Around The World With Trebor..... the new Age of Enlightenment....

**applies tickets to own back**
18th Dec 2019
Once you become aware that there is no particular "meaning" to or in life, you can make the most of every lucky day you spend on earth. You can live a good life for its own sake, not for the promise of some kind of reward after death. If you stop to consider the odds of ever being born in the first place, being alive can be enjoyed for the wonderful, amazing, unlikely thing it is.
18th Dec 2019
How right you are Jenny. I long ago realised the purpose of life is to have no in retirement my purpose is to have fun, whatever form that will take on each day I wake up. Different things bring me (and ours) fun at different times, in different ways. Although I am much persuaded by Freud's statement when asked what the purpose of life is....He said " why it is simple, to love and to work." Note he didn't qualify who or how to love or to work.
18th Dec 2019
"Once you become aware that there is no particular "meaning" to or in life, you can make the most of every lucky day you spend on earth."

Hogwash. A life with no meaning is a life of despair. Meaning resides only in God. If I can't talk to the maker of this mess, then please stop the Universe: I want to get off.

18th Dec 2019
You find real meaning in life in the same year that you embrace God. Read the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible. Nothing is ultimately meaningful without God.
19th Dec 2019
Actually living an ethical life is meaningful without god.
20th Dec 2019
I agree, Jennie...
24th Dec 2019
I don't fit the mold of what happens at each age milestone. I am still searching, learning, and I think the meaning of life it just do you best, be kind and grateful. And if you have a chance to make the world a better place then do that too.
24th Dec 2019
I agree. What I get tired of hearing are statements such as, "70 is the new 50." The implication is that it is not OK to become older, (and hopefully wiser as well.) There seems to be some shame attached to ageing or looking your age these days...
24th Dec 2019
Yes Jennie need to keep trying to look younger all the time to keep up with the expectation, which I don't but funny enough when you are a young person you want to look older, the dying of hair to grey for example. Just be yourself and be happy I reckon.

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