A study that examined how well hundreds of people remember events in their lives demonstrates that individuals who view their daily routines with a sense of purpose possess a stronger memory over time.

So, it looks like if you want to improve your mental recall, it’s a good idea to live purposefully. And it shouldn’t be that hard to do. Allow me to explain…

According to research at Florida State University (FSU), having a strong sense of purpose in life is the stuff that strong memories are made of.

In this investigation, when scientists tested the vividness and coherence of memories, they found that test subjects who centered their lives and activities around an overall goal or purpose could more readily recall the details of events they had lived through than folks without that sense of purpose.

Enjoyed a Richer, More Vivid Memory 

The study involved 800 people who were initially quizzed on their sense of purpose, and also had their cognitive processing speed calibrated. Then, about five months later, the researchers measured the study participants’ ability to recall and describe personal memories of events that had occurred since their original assessment.

The test subjects who had a more powerful sense of purpose reported that their memories were more coherent, vivid, and accessible than the memories reported by subjects who identified less strongly with a central, important purpose to their activities.

In fact, having a higher sense of purpose was linked to being able to recall more sensory details in their memories. And the researchers noted that the purpose-driven people spoke from a first-person perspective more often and reported stronger positive emotions and fewer negative feelings when reliving their memories.

“Memories help people to sustain their well-being, social connections and cognitive health,” says researcher Antonio Terracciano, PhD, a professor at the FSU College of Medicine. “This research gives us more insight into the connections between a sense of purpose and the richness of personal memories.”

Purposely Living Longer 

Impressively, other studies into the brain function and health benefits of having a sense of purpose in your life have unveiled further advantages to living with intention. For example, having a sense of purpose:

  • Helps you sleep better: Research at Northwestern University shows that older adults who have meaning in their lives experience less sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome as well as enjoy better overall sleep quality. “Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” says researcher Jason Ong, PhD. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.”1 
  • Leads to better heart health and a longer life: An analysis at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York demonstrates that having a sense of purpose may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. In this review of ten studies that involved more than 130,000 people, having a sense of purpose was defined as feeling that life is worth living because of a sense of direction and meaning. The review found that the sense of purpose lowered the chances of needing coronary bypass surgery or suffering a heart attack or stroke by ten percent. It also reduced the risk of dying during any of the studies.2 
  • Promotes better mental and emotional health: Researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania have found that a strong life purpose can generally reduce loneliness and help people cope with some of the isolating difficulties presented by COVID-19.3 “In the face of adversity, people with a stronger sense of purpose in life tend to be more resilient because they have a clear sense of goals that motivate actions that are aligned with personal values,” says researcher Yoona Kang, PhD.

Finding a Sense of Purpose 

And the best sense of purpose you should adopt? Any purpose you want! The research suggests that an ideal purpose is one that you can embrace and devote yourself to entirely.

Professor Yang and her colleagues report that their research subjects’ lives were guided by a sense of purpose defined by activism, religion, parenthood, artistic ambitions, or career. So, if you feel purposeless and listless nowadays, look around in your life for ways to infuse your days with meaning. Your memory—and your overall physical health—will thank you.


  1. https://sleep.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6 
  2. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/circ.131.suppl_1.52 
  3. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/61/6/878/6298550 

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