lauren_hodgesBy: Dr. Lauren Hodges
Director of Corporate Performance

Have you ever heard of the “Roseto Effect”?

In the mid-1950s, a group of researchers rolled into a small town in Pennsylvania called Roseto. With a population of no more than 2,000 people, all Italian-American immigrants, Roseto was at first not the most seemingly healthy community: the women and men worked in factories, smoked, and never exercised; grandparents lived with children and grandchildren and were revered matriarchs and patriarchs of the community who taught their kin to cook and passed down traditions; and their diet comprised solely of Italian food and excessive wine on a day-to-day basis. But there was something odd about Roseto: there was hardly a single case of heart disease to date. How were the people of Roseto so hearty?

Researchers spent over twenty years trying to solve this mystery until, around the 1980s, grandchildren of the first generation of Italian immigrants grew up and progressed like the rest of the nation. They went to college and many returned to build houses of their own – and nursing homes. Grandparents were moved into the nursing homes as Roseto became a town like any other in America and soon, something interesting happened: the heart disease rate began to creep up slowly until, a decade later, it was on par with the rest of the nation. So, what happened in Roseto? How can we explain the great health of this community despite their unhealthy lifestyle? And what changed?

What researchers found was incredible. As the newer generations aged and were placed in nursing homes or no longer held a leadership role inside the house as an elder, passing recipes, stories, and culture down to their descendants, their health declined rapidly. Stressed increased along with depression. In other words, when individuals lost their sense of value and community involvement – when they felt they were no longer needed – health declined. Researchers now believe, thanks to Roseto, that a sense of belonging and Purpose are in many ways more valuable than healthy eating, exercise, or any other physical measure of health.

How does this research translate to our everyday lives, our health, and our happiness? We all have goals: to be stronger, faster, leaner, more focused at work, more productive, happier, or generally healthier. Whatever the goal may be – physical, emotional, professional, spiritual, mental, etc. – research supports that grounding your goals in a purpose greater than the goal itself and finding a sense of belonging within a community will bring you statistically closer to achieving your goals. For example, the athlete who joins a fitness community or trains with his teammates who are all working toward a greater goal together can propel him to new heights of performance; the executive who joins a weekly smoking cessation support group while working to quit smoking can be the extra encouragement she needs to fight her urges; the father hanging a picture of his children in his office as he works to get off of his blood pressure medication by eating healthier and exercising can provide him the sense of purpose greater than the pressures and cravings of an unhealthy lifestyle.

So, explore your purpose and ask the question: what community do you belong to? What are your goals and what purpose do you have that is greater than the goal itself? Ground yourself in these communities and your deeper purpose and move forward with the knowledge that you will live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled with them behind you.

1 Comment
  1. Lauren,

    I'm 25 and recently moved to China from the USA to work as a product innovator and eCommerce manager. Everyday for the past month I've been asking myself the questions: What is my purpose in life? Where can I contribute? Where can I add value?

    I've been reading works from philosophers like Tolstoy, listening to TED talks and podcasts on innovation, scouring the internet to see the latest trends (kickstarter, indiegogo, reddit, amazon launchpad, gadget websites, etc…)

    I came upon your article by chance while doing some random Google searching. I'd just like to say that I couldn't agree more with what you have written here. It reminds of the 75-year study on human happiness, which basically concluded that the quality of one's relationships is the greatest contributor to human health and happiness.

    Thank you for writing this article. Sometimes I get lost in the worries of life and articles like these help remind me what's actually important.


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