Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 318–327 | Cite as

Purposeful Engagement, Healthy Aging, and the Brain

  • Carol D. Ryff
  • Aaron S. Heller
  • Stacey M. Schaefer
  • Carien van Reekum
  • Richard J. Davidson
Geropsychiatry & Cognitive Disorders of Late Life (P Newhouse, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Geropsychiatry & Cognitive Disorders of Late Life

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Research on psychological well-being in later life has identified strengths and vulnerabilities that occur with aging. We review the conceptual and philosophical foundations of a eudaimonic model of well-being and its empirical translation into six key dimensions of positive functioning. We also consider its implications for health, broadly defined.

Recent Findings

Numerous findings from national longitudinal samples of US adults are described. They show declining scores on purpose in life and personal growth with aging, but also underscore the notable variability among older persons in these patterns. Recently, health benefits have been identified among older adults who maintain high levels of a particular aspect of well-being, namely, purposeful life engagement. These benefits include extended longevity, reduced risk for various disease outcomes, reduced physiological dysregulation, and gene expression linked to better inflammatory profiles. The brain mechanisms that underlie such outcomes are also examined via a focus on affective style. Adults with higher levels of purpose in life show more rapid recovery from negative stimulus provocation, whereas those with higher well-being overall show sustained activation of reward circuitry in response to positive stimuli, and this pattern is associated with lower diurnal cortisol output. Volumetric findings (right insular gray matter volume) have also been linked with eudaimonic well-being.

Summary

Eudaimonic well-being predicts better health and longer lives, and thus constitutes an important direction for future research and practice. Intervention studies designed to promote well-being, including among those suffering from psychological disorders, are briefly described.

Keywords

Eudaimonic well-being Purpose in life Morbidity Mortality Biological risk factors Neural mechanisms Intervention studies 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol D. Ryff
    • 1
  • Aaron S. Heller
    • 2
  • Stacey M. Schaefer
    • 3
  • Carien van Reekum
    • 4
  • Richard J. Davidson
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute on Aging/PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.PsychologyUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Psychology/Center for Healthy MindsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  4. 4.PsychologyUniversity of ReadingBerkshireUK

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