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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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
Jan 31 2016
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Wealth
Purpose & Well-Being

Finding happiness by choosing time over money

Life is full of decisions, and many of these involve tradeoffs between time and money. We all sometimes lean in one direction and sometimes in the other, sometimes choosing the more expensive direct flight over the cheaper one with a layover to save time, but sometimes choosing to work some extra hours for some extra cash. But what if you’re someone who routinely chooses time over money? Find out how your decisions about time and money can shape your happiness.

By Janina Steinmetz
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 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 19 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

You are the greatest gift: The science of giving

One of the most beautiful things in life is the glow we see in someone’s eyes when we give them a gift they are truly happy about. However, we must admit that these gifts are hard to find, and ever too often do we select something that seems just okay to not show up empty-handed. Can science help us to become better gift-givers? Here is what recent research has to say about what makes a good gift that can help us connect with the person we’re giving to.

By Janina Steinmetz
Aug 18 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

Do rose-colored glasses make you happy? How happiness and a positive focus influence each other

In our happy moments, the sun seems to always shine and everyone around us is warm and friendly. And, indeed, past research has shown that when we’re happy we perceive more positive things in our environment. But some people are naturally happy. What is their secret? Recent research suggests that naturally happy people might wear rose-colored glasses more often than the rest of us. 

By Janina Steinmetz
May 22 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

When Getting Less Makes You More Generous

Although fairness is an important concern that can bring a sense of purpose into one’s life, it can also lead to inefficacy as it can prevent people from giving more to others for fear that they will appear unfair if they create inequality between others. That is, people may prefer to be generous to others, but they may fail to do so because of a concern with fairness. In such situations, must fairness and generosity conflict with one another? NPP members Shoham Choshen-Hillel, Alex Shaw, and Eugene Caruso from the University of Chicago Booth demonstrate one way that people can give more to one person than another without being perceived as unfair. 

By Alex Shaw
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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