|Title||What makes life purposeful? Identifying the antecedents of a sense of purpose in life using a lagged exposure-wide approach|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2022|
|Authors||Nakamura, JS, Chen, Y, VanderWeele, TJ, Kim, ES|
|Journal||SSM - Population Health|
|Keywords||Health behaviors, Physical Health, Psychosocial factors, Public Health, Purpose in life|
Prior research documents strong associations between an increased sense of purpose in life and improved health and well-being outcomes. However, less is known about candidate antecedents that lead to more purpose among older adults. Methods We used data from 13,771 participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) — a diverse, national panel study of adults aged >50 in the United States, to evaluate a large number of candidate predictors of purpose. Specifically, using linear regression with a lagged exposure-wide approach, we evaluated if changes in 61 predictors spanning physical health, health behaviors, and psychosocial well-being (between t0;2006/2008 and t1;2010/2012) were associated with purpose four years later (t2;2014/2016) after adjustment for a rich set of baseline covariates. Results Some health behaviors (e.g., physical activity ≥1x/week [β = 0.14, 95% CI: 0.09, 0.19]), physical health conditions (e.g., stroke [β = −0.25, 95% CI: −0.40, −0.10]), and psychosocial factors (e.g., depression [β = −0.21, 95% CI: −0.27, −0.15]) were associated with subsequent purpose four years later. However, there was little evidence that other health behaviors, physical health conditions, and psychosocial factors such as smoking, drinking, or financial strain, were associated with subsequent purpose. Conclusions Several of our candidate predictors such as volunteering, time with friends, and physical activity may be important targets for interventions and policies aiming to increase purpose among older adults. However, some effect sizes were modest and contrast with prior work on younger populations, suggesting purpose may be more easily formed earlier in life.