Arts & Sciences

The science of living with purpose

Patrick Hill investigates the effects of living purposefully on health, wealth, and wellness – and how to maintain one’s purpose through life’s transitions.

Whether you spend your weekdays as an employee, retiree, caretaker, student, or something else entirely, a typical morning likely includes some familiar components. Wake up, perhaps have a cup of coffee, and make a plan for the day. What do you intend to accomplish? What tasks, professional and personal, need to be checked off your list?

Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, directs the PATH lab, located in Somers Family Hall.

Patrick Hill, PhD, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, has spent the last decade studying the often-unnoticed background noise behind the sounds of coffee brewing and to-do list scrawling. Hill and his collaborators examine the big picture of why people set goals and seek to accomplish them – in other words, what it means to live with purpose.

In the Purpose, Aging, Transitions, and Health (PATH) lab, Hill examines a wide range of questions relating to purpose. He and his students want to know how people find their purpose, how purpose relates to health and wellness, and, most recently, how life transitions like retirement affect a person’s ability to live purposefully. The work has real-world implications for just about anyone, at just about any phase of life.

The multifaceted benefits of purpose

Hill describes purpose as a framework that helps individuals identify what is personally important. For some, the prospect of professional advancement conveys a sense of purpose. For others, it’s a broad desire to help those in need. In any case, purpose imparts direction and structure to both daily life and long-term plans.

Through his work in the PATH lab and partnerships with researchers across the world, Hill has found that purpose correlates with life outcomes far beyond expected areas like career success. People with a greater sense of purpose are healthier overall. They tend to have more satisfaction in their romantic relationships and more positive attitudes toward diversity. They even get better sleep, according to a forthcoming paper from the lab that connects purpose with more granular health benefits.

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