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Study: Having A Purpose Can Reduce Stress Levels

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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — It is no secret that reducing stress leads to healthier lives, but the hard part is finding strategies to get there.

Sure, exercise, diet or meditation would help, especially as it relates to heart illnesses.

But what else?

How about a sense of purpose.

Research has shown that people with a clear direction are more relaxed.

A sense of purpose can range from the simple (I want to make my child happy today) to the complex (I want to save families from an endless cycle of poverty).

While more study needs to be done, a research project here in Chicago helped bolster that theory.

Anthony Burrow, a developmental psychologist at Cornell University, had college students of different races and ethnicities ride CTA trains through different neighborhoods of Chicago, recording their emotions as individuals of different racial and ethnic groups boarded.

Before they rode the train, one group was told to write for 10 minutes about the purpose in their life.

The other group wrote about the last movie they saw.

The volunteers recorded any negative emotions when they arrived at a stop.

The students who wrote about the movie experienced expected levels of stress as more people of a different race/ethnicity boarded the train. (Previous research has indicated that people tend to feel anxious when the number of people of a different race are added to a group.)

The students who wrote about their sense of purpose reported no feelings of increased stress at all.

“Many individuals feel socially isolated and distressed in ethnically diverse settings. Purpose in life may buffer this form of distress by fostering one’s sense of having a meaningful direction, which may also be of significance to others,” Burrow said.

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