Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Purpose Across the Lifespan

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 Across the Lifespan.

Sometimes people have the same goals and purposes for most of their life, yet other times they abandon some goals or adopt new ones. Work on Purpose Across the Lifespan considers the many implications of this fact, asking questions like: How do specific goals develop in children? What are the factors that determine whether and for how long these early goals will be pursued? What prompts people to abandon existing goals or adopt new ones? In what ways do goals change with various milestones throughout life (e.g., the birth of children, retirement)? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

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Mar 02 2016
Purpose & Wealth
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

The pain of uncertainty: Why people experience more physical pain during economical uncertainty

We all have experienced times of uncertainty about our finances, and we all know the anxiety and stress that economic uncertainty can bring. Whether we worry about keeping a job, or paying off debt, many of us have lost sleep over feeling economically unstable. But can economic uncertainty have even more far-reaching effects on us? Read here about the unexpected effects of economic uncertainty on our bodies, and why you might need more Advil if you ever lose your job.

By Janina Steinmetz
Feb 25 2016
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

A Little Bit of Gratitude Goes a Long Way Promoting Your Love Life

According to recent breakthrough from psychological science, it turns out that people’s romantic relationships can have huge impact on their physical health. As a matter of fact, in terms of ramifications, a pleasant romantic relationship can have the same effect on longevity that smoking 15 cigarettes a day can have on mortality. The upshot should be apparent: it pays to build and nurture a congenial romantic relationship. But what exact should we do to achieve such a desirable goal? The answer might surprise you a little to say the least.

By Haotian Zhou
Dec 16 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Valuing negative emotions protects people from lasting health effects of bad moods

Although we all seek happiness, life also has negative things in store for us that make us angry, sad, or anxious. Experiencing these negative emotions frequently can harm one’s psychological health and physical well-being. However, some people seem almost immune against the harmful effects of negative emotions. These people also experience negative emotions, but they don’t suffer lasting consequences from that. But how do they stay healthy even when faced with negative emotional experiences? So what exactly is their secret?

By Janina Steinmetz
Nov 18 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan

No mountain too high: How a sense of purpose fuels people’s energy

A sense of purpose in life can alleviate the greatest hardships and give people a boost to deal with adverse circumstances. After having mastered getting a college degree, finishing a marathon, or paying off debt, people often say that knowing what these struggles were for helped them through difficult times. But how exactly does a sense of purpose help people to find the energy for life’s uphill battles? Recent research suggests that with a sense of purpose in life, the hill literally looks less steep.

By Janina Steinmetz
Nov 11 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Can You Mend a Broken Heart with A Sad Love Song?

It might come as a surprise to you that as a scientist, I frequently engage in a whole slew of activities that does zilch to the advancement of sciences. One thing I am particularly fond of doing is to wallow in my make-believe misery with Sinead O’Connor’s "Nothing Compares 2 U" playing at Level 11. Of course, this does not mean that I am twerking gaily to Jagger-Bowie’s "Dancing in the Street" when I truly feel miserable.  When the heart aches, I console myself with Def Leppard’s "Bringing on the Heartache." And I’m pretty sure you do it too. You might play "Love Bites" rather than "Bringing on the Heartache" to nurse your bleeding heart but that doesn’t alter the fundamental fact that you and I both resort to sad music to deal with our melancholy. Surely, great minds think alike but thinking alike rarely breeds great wisdoms. The self-pitying "Nothing Compares 2 U" and its ilk might just not be the way out of the heartbreak hotel.

By Haotian Zhou
Oct 05 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Be aware! You might lose your mind when trying to lose weight

I completely forgot that it was my turn to bring you the latest discoveries from the frontiers of behavioral science until someone kindly sent me a reminder. In fact, I have been experiencing these memory lapses rather frequently as of recent. And naturally, I, as any well-trained psychologists would do in similar circumstances, began to suspect that I might be suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s (I know, it is so darn unfair!). I plopped down in front of my computer and started brooding over the meaninglessness of life and the frailty of human nature while aimlessly Googling random stuff. Suddenly, I stumbled upon a new paper from Duke University which completely knocked me out of my self-imposed stupor. It turns out that my forgetfulness probably has more to do with the new hot body of yours truly rather than my brain’s failure to clean up those harmful chemicals I introduced in a previous post.

By Haotian Zhou
Sep 13 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Don’t Forget Your Souvenir: How material possessions influence long term happiness

It has been argued time and time again that positive experiences are more important than material possessions when it comes to making us happy in the short term. But what about the long term? Does the joy of a wonderful experience fade more quickly than the happiness associated with gifts and gadgets? Recent research suggests that combining the material with the non-material might be one strategy to ‘get the best of both worlds’ in order to preserve and extend the feelings of happiness derived from life’s richest and most purpose-laden experiences. 

By Brittany Christian, Zach Bradley
Aug 13 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose Across the Lifespan

The Way I See It: Emotions That Exacerbate Egocentrism

Mentally stepping into another person’s shoes is believed to be one of the most remarkably unique capabilities of the human mind. But, just because we can entertain other perspectives, doesn’t imply that it comes easily.  Inherently egocentric, we tend to be tightly laced in our own point of view and it often takes a few tricky mental maneuvers to get into someone else’s sneakers. What we might not realize, however, is that our own emotional states may undermine even the most sincere desires to connect with another person by understanding their point of view. Recent research identifies the types of emotions that exacerbate our natural tendency to (wrongly) assume everyone sees the world just as we do.

By Brittany Christian
May 28 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Counting the days: How to start preparing for the future

Most of us never have enough time. We feel like there are so many urgent tasks to tend to in the present that we often neglect the future. We assume that our future selves will somehow have more time, energy, and patience to deal with everything we cannot deal with right now. However, most of us never stop being busy, and thus we often fail to sufficiently focus on the future. Consequently, long-term goals in areas such as finances, health, and professional success may suffer. Pursuing purpose in life requires looking beyond all of the immediate and urgent things that are going on, and to focus on what really gives us meaning. How can we stop delegating tasks to our future selves and start working for our future now?

By Janina Steinmetz, Brittany Christian
May 18 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

To Thine Own Self Be True

One of the deepest human desires is to truly be known and accepted by others. Genuinely authentic social connections imbue our lives with purpose and meaning in a way that is unparalleled by many of the other goals that we strive to achieve. However, people are not always authentic - speaking and acting in ways that are not necessarily true to who they are, what they think, or how they feel. While it is well-known that occluding our true selves from others makes us feel less moral, it is unclear whether personal moments of inauthenticity – when we are lying to ourselves  – are perceived as violations of the same moral code. That is, do we consider ourselves to be less moral, undermining our own sense of purpose and well being, when we ignore Shakespeare’s wisdom ‘To thine own self be true’?

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz

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