purpose: good for health?

purpose: good for health?

How can purpose affect our physical health? Two components of the intentionality of purpose—goal attainment and planning—have shown influence in promoting positive physical health in individuals. Goal attainment and planning focus on setting a course that promotes behavior towards an end point—in this case, health.

Purpose is a meaningful life aim you engage in intentionally that has a beyond the self-impact (Damon, Menon & Bronk, 2003). Purpose stimulates lower level goals, manage behavior, and provide a sense of meaning to life. Purpose serves as a guiding light to prioritize a hierarchy of goals (Eliot, Gable, & Mapes 2006).  When goals are achieved, they are replaced by new goals that align with the purpose. In turn, establishing goals and planning a path builds up a cycle of goals and purpose reinforcing each other (McKnight & Kashdan, 2009).

This specific skill for goal attainment and planning can decrease stress levels and increase immunological responses to illness (McKnight & Kashdan, 2009; Ryff, Singer, & Love, 2004). Individuals are comforted when they can imagine their desired future outcomes, especially when these desired outcomes align with the internal motivation related to purpose (Brunstein, Schultheiss, & Grassman, 1998). In one study, an intervention of directly teaching goal setting and planning skills impacted participants’ health (MacLeod, Coates, & Hetherton, 2008). We feel better physically when we have a sense of control and progress. Purpose can drive such progress.


By Nainika Grover, Clark University, USA



Brunstein, J. C., Schultheiss, O. C., & Grässman, R. (1998). Personal goals and emotional well-being: The moderating role of motive dispositions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 494.

Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.

Elliot, A. J., Gable, S. L., & Mapes, R. R. (2006). Approach and avoidance motivation in the social domain. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(3), 378-391.

MacLeod, A. K., Coates, E., & Hetherton, J. (2008). Increasing well-being through teaching goal-setting and planning skills: Results of a brief intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2), 185-196.

McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology, 13(3), 242.

Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: Connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions-Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences, 1383-1394.