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Healthier People Have a Stronger Sense of Life Purpose

When you’re faced with health-related behavior changes, do you freeze up? Do you struggle to make decisions as simple as whether to take the elevator or the stairs, or bring a salad to work instead of surviving on break room donuts?

On a seemingly unrelated but actually totally related note, would you say you have a strong or weak sense of life purpose?

Keep those answers in mind.

According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, people who have stronger life purpose tend to accept messages that promote health behavior changes more easily and willingly than people with a weaker sense of purpose, and this might be because people with a strong sense of life purpose generally experience less decisional conflict when they’re considering health advice.

The study tests out the theory that making health decisions takes less effort for people who have a higher sense of purpose in life. To do that, lead author Yoona Kang and her co-authors first surveyed sedentary people who needed to exercise more (participants had to be overweight or obese and had to have engaged in fewer than 200 minutes of physical activity in the seven days leading up to the survey). The participants indicated the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I don’t have a good sense of what it is I’m trying to accomplish in life” and “I have a sense of direction and purpose in my life.”

Next, participants were shown messages that promoted physical activity while an fMRI scanner monitored their responses, focusing on regions of the brain that usually are active when people aren’t sure what to choose or feel conflicted.

Researchers found the participants who reported they had a stronger sense of life purpose were more likely to both:

  • Agree with the health messages.
  • Have less activity in the brain regions associated with conflict-processing.

So much so that researchers were able to predict how likely a person was to agree with the health messages just based on the person’s brain activity.

Later on, I want to share some resources I’ve gathered about life purpose (what is a life purpose? how do you find your life purpose? why do you keep resisting your life purpose?) but for now I want to know how this study relates to you.

Think about your overall eating habits and physical activity, as well as your sense of a life purpose. How do the two relate to one another? Are you active and in great physical shape with a strong sense of your purpose in life, or are you sedentary, overweight, and confused about what’s going on? Or, to mix things up, are you in the best shape of your life but still unsure about that life’s purpose?

Let’s talk about it!

Healthier People Have a Stronger Sense of Life Purpose

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2019). Healthier People Have a Stronger Sense of Life Purpose. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 May 2019
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