Did you know that having a sense of meaning and direction, a feeling that life is worth living, something to get out of bed for, may lead to greater psychological health and well-being, and to demonstrable increases in lifespan? One reputable study even put a number on it, saying you could live 7.5 years longer.

And some 2015 research shows that having a sense of purpose may also lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. This new analysis found that a high sense of purpose is associated with a 23% reduction in death from all causes and a 19% reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or the need for coronary artery bypass surgery. I find the specificity of these statistics simultaneously a bit odd and strangely reassuring, but even if we can’t guarantee a precise 23% reduction in the likelihood of premature death, there’s little doubt that a sense of meaning and purpose is good for you.

Work is an obvious way to try and find a sense of purpose, but it is of course not the only way. Whatever your age or life situation, one of the best ways to be engaged with a meaningful life is to be active in three key areas – mental, physical and social. And one of the best ways to do that is by pursuing hobbies and activities that interest you. It could be gardening, fishing, playing golf or going for walks, taking an interest in a local issue or picking up an old hobby from your past and giving it another go. Why not try something a bit creative, like drawing or even a bit of singing? As long as you love it …

Doing a physical activity like walking or swimming keeps your body working better, helps with chronic conditions, is beneficial for anxiety or stress – and evidence is emerging that it even helps keep your brain sharp.

Mental activities help your memory and your general brain function. Reading is a great one, many people do crosswords or Sudoku every day – and in fact any craft activity will involve thinking, planning, problem solving and creativity.

Social activities are also a key to health and happiness. Maybe you let friendships slide during your busy years, but taking up a new hobby can also be a great way to find a new friend or two. And having a chat and a laugh with a friend is one of life’s greatest joys.

If you are interested in multi-tasking, they say taking dance classes covers all three bases – it is physical, mental and social at the same time. Pity I have two left feet…

I am still in a pretty intense working phase of my life, but I find time for reading, theatre and listening to music, and we have an ageing much-loved Labrador who is more family member than hobby. I am also a keen traveller, but I suspect that goes beyond ‘hobby’ and is more like ‘serious addiction’. I have long had a mental list of things I want to take up or resume when my work winds down a bit, bridge, cooking and gardening currently topping the list (and more travel, of course…).

What about you?

Joanna Maxwell

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