” I don’t believe that if you do good, good things will happen. Everything is completely accidental and random. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. But at least if you try to do good things, then you’re spending your time doing something worthwhile.” – Helen Mirren
This statement by the wise Dame touches on something most of us question — if we do good, will we be rewarded? There’s this idea that if we put positive energy into the universe, we’ll be flooded with good karma. But then sometimes we get a kick to the shins, even when we’re trying to be our best selves, and that can feel discouraging.
Well, rest assured: A recent study by researchers at University College London has found some evidence that when we believe we’re leading a worthwhile life, we reap the benefits. And the benefits go on, and on, and on.
“Higher worthwhile ratings are associated with stronger personal relationships (marriage/partnership, contact with friends), broader social engagement (involvement in civic society, cultural activity, volunteering), less loneliness, greater prosperity (wealth, income), better mental and physical health (self-rated health, depressive symptoms, chronic disease), less chronic pain, less disability, greater upper body strength, faster walking, less obesity and central adiposity, more favorable biomarker profiles (C-reactive protein, plasma fibrinogen, white blood cell count, vitamin D, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol), healthier lifestyles (physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, sleep quality, not smoking), more time spent in social activities and exercising, and less time spent alone or watching television,” researchers wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s a lot to take in, so let’s boil it down. Basically, researchers in the United Kingdom used data from about 7,300 men and women who were 50 or older between 2012 and 2016 and who had participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. When participants were asked to rate how worthwhile the things they did were, researchers found that those who believed their lives were more worthwhile were better off in terms of their health and social calendars.
That kind of makes sense. When we feel better about the things we do, we feel better about ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves, we usually take better care of our health, have more energy, and are kinder to others.
So perhaps this study tells us what we knew all along: We need to have purpose in our lives to feel fulfilled, and that in turn means we’ll have a better life overall. Time to start volunteering again, or go after that dream job. Or maybe it’s enough to spend more hours with friends or family.
Whatever “worthwhile” means to you, it’s time to start living it — your health down the road depends on just that.