Just a Thought
What this series is about … As we age, keeping physically active is essential. It not only improves the appearance of the body, it also prevents the occurrence of health complications in the future. Join the discussion in this series as we research the various programs that can help maintain a healthy mind and body.
Staying Young: Engagement with life (b)
Death has been defined as the absence of behaviour (Kaplan, 1990 ). Behaviour is important for health and it goes hand-in-hand with being alive. Some even suggest that it is engagement in behaviour that sustains life (Carver and Scheier, 1998 ).
Recent models of behavioural self-regulation (Carver and Scheier, 1981, 1990, 1998 ), suggest that two elements are important in creating behaviour:
(a) The ability to identify goals that are valued, and
(b) The perception that those goals are attainable.
Of these two elements, it is the value dimension that is of interest here. Valued goals are important because they provide a purpose for living. Valued goals also provide the mechanism by which a person remains behaviourally engaged in life. According to this view, behaviour occurs either because the behaviour represents a valued goal in and of itself (e.g. exercising for exercise sake) or because it is instrumental in achieving a more abstract, higher order goal that is valued (e.g. exercising to be healthy).
Purpose in life is usually described in terms of the extent to which a person engages in activities that are personally valued. The purpose in life represents an important but overlooked psychosocial predictor of health outcomes.
Life is full of situations in which desired activities must be abandoned—e.g. the person who still loves to work, but is forced to retire because of age; the carpenter or hairdresser who get satisfaction from work but gripping the tools of their trade is made painful from bad arthritis. In these contexts, the person must find alternative meaningful activities in which to engage. If new activities are not found, the person’s life feels empty and is without purpose. The authors conclude that feeling states such as these will have important adverse effects on psychological and physical well-being (Wrosch et al, 2003a and 2003b ).
Given the central role that behaviour plays in living, it is important to ask why people act. What is it that causes people to behave and remain engaged in what they do?
A number of instruments have been developed to assess purpose in life. For example, Zika & Chamberlain (1992) and Seeman (1991) reported an alpha .91 in their study for reliability of the Purpose in Life (PIL) test that was designed on Frankl's concepts to measure experience of meaning and purpose in life for an individual. Some support for the scale's convergent and discriminant validity is also summarised in Seeman (1991). The PIL is a 20-item scale shown to have good split-half and test-retest reliability. Each item is rated on a 7-point scale; and total scores range from 20 (low purpose) to 140 (high purpose). Examples of the 20 items include:
"I am usually: completely bored (1) --- exuberant, enthusiastic (7)"; 'If I could choose, I would: prefer never to have been born (1) --- like nine more lives just like this one (7); "As I view the world in relation to my life, the world: completely confuses me (1) --- fits meaningfully with my life (7)", and "With regard to suicide, I have: thought of it seriously as a way out (1) --- never given it a second thought (7).
In March 2006, Scheier et al described a new 6-item scale, Life Engagement Test (LET) for measuring purpose in life. The report, The Life Engagement Test (LET): Assessing Purpose in Life (published online 24 March 2006 ), presents psychometric data including information about the scale’s factor structure, internal consistency, test-retest reliability, convergent validity, discriminant predictive validity, and norms. The data suggest that the LET is psychometrically sound across different gender, age, and ethnic groups and is appropriate for wider use. Ref: Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 29: Number 3, June 2006, pp. 291-298 (8), http://www.ingentaconnect.com/
The use of LET is often cited in discussions of behavioural medicine and health psychology research; and recent associations have begun to emerge between the scale and health-relevant outcomes.
Carver CS, Scheier MF, Wrosch C & Schulz R, 2003. The importance of goal disengagement in adaptive self-regulation: When giving up is beneficial. Self and Identity, 2:1-20.
Scheier MF, Wrosch C, Baum A, Cohen S, Martire LM, Matthews K A, Schulz R & Zdaniuk B, 2006. The Life Engagement Test: Assessing Purpose in Life. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 29: 291-298.
Scheier MF, Wrosch C, Baum A, et al. 2006. The Life Engagement Test: Assessing Purpose in Life, Springer: Science & Business Media, Inc.
Seeman M, 1991. Alienation and anomie. In: Robinson JP, Shaver PR and Wrightsman LS (Eds.) Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes, Volume I (pp 291-371), San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Zika S and Chamberlain K, 1992. On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being. British Journal of Psychology, 83: 133-145.
Project Manager and Editor, Quality4life
16 October 2006