Health Tip: Find Purpose in Life

By James Hamblin
James Hamblin
James Hamblin
November 3, 2014 Updated: November 3, 2014

There are a handful of junctures in life when a person’s sense of purpose is prone to twinkle and fade. In unemployment or professional stagnation; in financial or romantic straits, or after the death of a loved one; and, predictably, in retirement. To that point, the program Experience Corps seems to have stumbled into an elegant solution. For the past decade, the nonprofit has paired people ages 55 and older with students in kindergarten through third grade who need academic help. Across 19 U.S. cities, volunteers have taken up literacy coaching and proven that in their spare time they can significantly increase students’ test scores and morale. Which is great, of course. But the unexpected side effect of the programs was that the adults experienced significant health improvements, both mental and physical.

One of the drivers of those health benefits, according to Eric Kim, a doctoral candidate examining the intersection of social connection and physical health at the University of Michigan, is that the tutors developed a renewed sense of purpose in their lives.

Victor Strecher, a professor of health behavior and health education at University of Michigan School of Public Health and co-author of today’s study, notes, “What if doctors had a prescription pad that just helped people develop greater purpose in life?”

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