Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Purpose & Well-Being

In exploring the human experience of purpose, the NPP project has identified several core themes that are particularly significant, and which provide a useful framework for organizing our activities.  This page displays the content from this website tagged for one of those themes: Purpose &Well-Being.

Work on Purpose & Well-Being recognizes that although purpose is commonly understood to be a source of deep personal fulfillment, little is known about just how individuals connect the sense, pursuit, and experience of purpose to their own well-being and happiness in everyday life.  To what extent do people accurately identify purposeful activities that are likely to improve their well-being? What factors promote the recognition of purposeful activity as an avenue to greater well-being? Under what conditions do people feel inspired and empowered to seek greater well-being through purposeful experience? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

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Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Principal Investigator: Jenessa Shapiro,  Associate Professor of Psychology and Management, University of California at Los Angeles

Adjustment to college is difficult. As a result, many interventions, including student orientation efforts, aim to make this transition smoother to protect students’ grades, satisfaction with college, and retention. This is particularly important for under-represented racial/ethnic minority students. Under-representation leads students to worry about being seen through the lens of negative stereotypes about their group and to question their sense of fit and belonging in academic settings, which in turn undermines academic interest and performance, a phenomenon called stereotype threat. We propose that stereotype threat will also lead to a reduced sense of purpose: If you feel as though you do not belong in a particular context, it is difficult to derive a sense of purpose or meaningfulness from this context. We further propose that an authenticity intervention—an intervention that individuates students and celebrates their unique cultural backgrounds—will undermine multiple forms of stereotype threats, increase students’ feelings of purpose, and in turn increase well-being, satisfaction with the university, grades, and feelings of academic fit/belonging.

Purpose & Well-Being

Principal Investigator: Anuj K. Shah, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Chronic physical pain is common among low-wage workers in developing countries and it has a widespread, negative effect on how these individuals meet daily demands. Not only does pain reduce life quality and well-being, but we predict that it also interferes with how people think, decide, and make a living. As a result, pain may create an important, if underappreciated, obstacle to purposeful living. This project takes the first steps toward understanding these effects, in hopes of building a foundation of knowledge that will enable people  who must contend with potentially debilitating chronic pain (in both developing and advanced economies) to restructure their environments in ways that protect and enhance their well-being, goal-pursuit, and the pursuit of purpose . 

Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

Principal InvestigatorDavid Rand, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Economics, Cognitive Science, and Management, Yale University

A sense of purpose arises from feeling that your actions contribute to something larger than yourself. However, working towards collectively beneficial outcomes sometimes requires acting contrary to one’s material self-interest. In building new paths to purpose, therefore, one is faced with the challenge of fostering the desire to engage in cooperative behavior. Institutional environments (e.g. in schools, firms, civil society) typically incentivize cooperation using explicit rewards and punishments. Yet, a wealth of behavioral science research suggests that extrinsic motivators can destroy, or “crowd out”, people’s intrinsic desire to benefit the greater good. More positively, however, recent research from our group suggests that some extrinsic incentives can actually encourage, or “crowd in”, intrinsic motivation to cooperate. The experimental work proposed here addresses the challenge of creating institutions to incentivize good behavior while at the same time increasing intrinsic motivation to engage in these pro-social acts.

Purpose & Wealth
Purpose & Well-Being

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth W. Dunn, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia

Under what conditions are wealthy individuals inspired to give? The objective of the proposed research is to understand the psychological factors that ‘flip the philanthropy switch,’ thereby transforming the financially successful entrepreneurs of today into the Warren Buffetts of tomorrow. Building on past research, we hypothesize that individuals will be more inclined to use their financial resources to benefit others if they view their own financial success as stemming from situational factors, such as being in the right place at the right time or receiving help from others. In addition, we expect that people who use their wealth to benefit others will experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Thus, the proposed research is poised to illuminate how subtle psychological factors can influence individuals’ decisions about whether to use their resources to help others, while tracking how these decisions shape individuals’ own pathways to purpose.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose & Well-Being

Principal Investigator: Christopher K. Hsee, Theodore O. Yntema Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing

Over the last few decades, an extensive body of research has shown that boredom is inherently aversive, and that people seek a sense of meaning and purpose even for relatively mundane tasks. Little research, however, has yet explored the possibility that individuals can successfully manage these experiences by actively imbuing a sense of purpose in, or extracting a sense of purpose from what might otherwise be hastily dismissed as meaningless activity. This research aims to close this gap by investigating when, why, and how individuals will capitalize on, rather than dismiss opportunities to increase their own happiness through activity.

This project is a foundational agenda for the New Paths to Purpose Project

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