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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Apr 06 2015
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Purpose Today Keeps the Doctor Away

Looking back on one’s life and the things one has accomplished and enjoyed is one of the most purposeful activities that one can engage in. That is one of the reasons that Alzheimer’s disease is so very troubling to most people. It takes away one’s sense of purpose in the moment, and can make it difficult to remember those things that matter to them most. We know that Alzheimer’s can rob us of purpose, but can purpose be used to combat Alzheimer’s? Recent research from Patricia Boyle and colleagues suggests the answer might be yes…

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou
Mar 14 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being

Risky Business: How being reminded of past success encourages risk taking

Life is a series of choices. Often times we find ourselves at a crossroad trying to determine whether it is best to take the ‘safe’ option or to go out on a limb and try something that is more risky in hopes that it will yield a greater reward. Whether considering investments in stock, our next career move or a future travel destination, the decisions we make in the face of uncertainty can either enrich our lives with meaning and a sense of accomplishment or fill us with regret. Recent research considers how being reminded of past successes might influence our decisions to take big risks. 

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz
Mar 06 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

Why does everyone else have more fun than I do? How social media can make us unhappy

Many of us are active and frequent users of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. These tools help us to connect with loved ones, to share our daily experiences with friends all over the world, and even to announce some of life’s most important and meaningful moments like an engagement or a pregnancy. At the same time, we are also passive users who observe the happy news and fun activities that other people share on social media. Considering the amount of time spent using social media and people’s tendency to post their most exciting experiences, it comes to question how using these mediums affects our well-being and  our sense of purpose. Maybe, watching other people’s seemingly perfect lives can leave us with envy and unhappiness?

By Janina Steinmetz, Brittany Christian
Feb 23 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

How Having Less Can Make You More Rational

Poverty and scarcity are a huge burden on people that can prevent them from pursuing their purpose. It is difficult to think about one’s broader purpose when one is distracted by hunger or worrying about how one is going to pay one’s next bill. While these negative facts about scarcity are well known, is there any sense in which scarcity can have a positive influence on people? New Paths to Purpose member Anuj Shah along with Eldar Shafir and Senhil Mullainathan recently found that scarcity can sometimes lead people to engage in more rational decision-making. 

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou
Feb 19 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

Righting Wrongs and Paying it Forward: How Emotions Promote Unique Prosocial Behaviors

You don’t have to watch the news for long before the stories begin to tug on your heart strings. Whether filling you with sadness or rage, the moral tragedies prevalent in our world today may be so heart-breaking that we begin to question the very purpose and meaning of life. On the opposite end of the moral spectrum, random acts of kindness, like the stranger who helps an elderly woman across the road, or of generosity, such as a selfless donation to help those in need, renew our faith in humanity and remind us of what matters most in life. But can witnessing good and bad moral actions actually affect our own behaviors and if so, what types of prosocial actions might these emotions promote?

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz
Feb 09 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

Having Trouble Focusing? A Dose of Cuteness May Be The Answer

For many of us, the sight of a cute baby animal brings an adoring smile to our faces. As anyone who has ever spent any time perusing Google images will tell you: people love pictures of cute puppies and kittens. Although gawking at the latest viral cat meme might seem like a waste of time, could it be that doing so is actually time well spent? According to recent research by a team of Japanese psychologists, the answer is a resounding yes.

By Haotian Zhou, Alex Shaw
Feb 06 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

You should be happy: How the norm to be happy makes people sad

We all love to be happy, and to be surrounded by happy others. Happiness is certainly one of the most fulfilling experiences and enhances our sense of purpose and meaning in life. Could there by anything wrong at all with wanting to be happy and wanting others to be happy? Surprisingly, recent research suggests a dangerous downside of our love for happiness. Read here how the valuation of happiness can paradoxically make people lonely and sad because they feel unhappiness is not accepted by others.

By Janina Steinmetz, Brittany Christian
Jan 30 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

How Thinking about our Legacy Can Save the World

Even as scientists become increasingly concerned about the possible environmental havoc climate change can wreak on our environment, the public is generally apathetic about doing their part to reduce this growing threat. The benefits of doing nothing are so immediate and concrete whereas the apparent harms are so distant and abstract. How can we get people to act more purposefully, joining forces with their fellow human beings to combat the looming threat of climate change? Lisa Zaval, Ezra Markowitz, and Elke Weber conducted some research that suggests that if you want people to help the environment today, you need to make them think about their legacy in the future.

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou
Jan 12 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Well-Being

One Hug a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

During this frigid winter season, most of us would be more than happy to be on the receiving end of a hug from a friend, a relative or a love one. Not only does a hug communicate their love or affection for us, the physical contact that is part-and-parcel of a hug also warms us up. However, could a hug provide something more than just fuzzy good feelings?  A recent study by a team of psychologists from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that you might get some unexpected benefits from receiving a hug. This benefit is quintessential to leading a purposeful life.

By Haotian Zhou, Alex Shaw
Dec 26 2014
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being

Lead us not into temptation: how people with good self-control avoid temptations

We’re in the midst of the holiday season, which is a time of joy and family gatherings. But interwoven with all the bliss and festivity we face numerous almost irresistible temptations. Whether it is a healthy diet or a productive work or study schedule, these goals seem even harder to pursue when we’re surrounded by delicious food and plenty of distractions. And yet, we need to stay strong when facing temptations in order to pursue our goals and eventually purpose and meaning in life. But what’s the secret of the successful resisters?

By Janina Steinmetz, Brittany Christian

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