Why Finding Your Calling Is Worth the Effort

It’s never too late to discover your calling, and research suggests you’ll be happier and healthier when you do

It turns out that having a calling—a sense of purpose in life that can be as lofty as curing cancer or as basic as being kind to cats—helps people live longer. And the good news is that holds true even if it's a calling we don't stumble upon until middle age—or even later.

A new study from Carleton University in Canada tracked 6,000 people of all ages, following them for 14 years. Those who described themselves as having a sense of purpose were less likely to die in all age groups, and it seemed to trump other psychological factors, such as positive or negative emotions.

This sense of personal mission also seems to add to our ability to persevere, even when things get tough. A researcher from the London School of Economics has been following a group of young amateur musicians for more than a decade, and finds that the more they view their pursuit of music as a calling, the more likely they are to stay with it. While that might seem obvious, researchers say what's notable is that this sense of calling didn't come as a sudden bolt from the blue; rather, it was something the musicians consciously sought to develop and deepen over time.

People who view their work as a calling are happier than those of us who view it as either a job or a career, says Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. "They tend to see the work they do as a way they make the world a better place," she says, whether it's working in global healthcare or providing exceptional customer service. "They have higher job satisfaction, they miss fewer days of work, and they are better performers."