Purpose in life predicts both health and longevity suggesting that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting life’s challenges, may be a mechanism underlying resilience. Having purpose in life may motivate reframing stressful situations to deal with them more productively, thereby facilitating recovery from stress and trauma. In turn, enhanced ability to recover from negative events may allow a person to achieve or maintain a feeling of greater purpose in life over time. In a large sample of adults (aged 36-84 years) from the MIDUS study (Midlife in the U.S., http://www.midus.wisc.edu/), we tested whether purpose in life was associated with better emotional recovery following exposure to negative picture stimuli indexed by the magnitude of the eyeblink startle reflex (EBR), a measure sensitive to emotional state. We differentiated between initial emotional reactivity (during stimulus presentation) and emotional recovery (occurring after stimulus offset). Greater purpose in life, assessed over two years prior, predicted better recovery from negative stimuli indexed by a smaller eyeblink after negative pictures offset, even after controlling for initial reactivity to the stimuli during the picture presentation, gender, age, trait affect, and other well-being dimensions. These data suggest a proximal mechanism by which purpose in life may afford protection from negative events and confer resilience is through enhanced automatic emotion regulation after negative emotional provocation.
S. M. Schaefer, J. M. Boyland, C. M. van Reekum, R. C. Lapate, Catherine Norris, C. D. Ryff, and R. J. Davidson.
"Purpose In Life Predicts Better Emotional Recovery From Negative Stimuli".