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

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Nov 29 2014
Purpose Across the Lifespan

Countdown to big birthdays: how it feels to be on the cusp

(The Guardian) Five years ago, soon after he turned 29, Adam Alter, a South African-born, Australian-raised academic living in New York, was struck by a sudden realisation: in less than a year, barring calamities, he’d be 30. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that his job, as a professor of marketing and psychology, meant that he knew more mathematics than most, but it came as a shock. “I had a fire lit under me,” recalls Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink, a book about the subconscious forces that shape how we act. “I thought, I need to make sure I’m living the right kind of life! I needed to do something that felt like it was a big enough goal, so it felt like there was meaning in my life.”

In the News
Nov 20 2014
Purpose in Goal Pursuit

Birthday Years Ending in 9 Prompt Big Life Decisions, Study Shows

(ABC News) People whose ages end in 9 tend to be more likely to seek extramarital affairs, run marathons and commit suicide compared with those whose ages ended in other digits, according to a new study.

In the News
Nov 17 2014
Purpose in Goal Pursuit

We Make Our Big Life Decisions at 29, 39, and So On

(New York Magazine) The years before beginning a brand-new decade — ages 29, 39, and so on — tend to be spent in self-reflection, according to a new paper published online today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These are the prime What am I doing with my life? years, in other words, which prompts many people to behave in ways that suggest “an ongoing or failed search for meaning,” the authors write. Their data suggests that these are the ages when people are more likely to either train harder for a marathon or run one for the first time; they’re also the ages when more people tend to cheat on their marriages or take their own lives.

In the News

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Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan
USING AUTHENTICITY TO INCREASE PURPOSE AND BELONGING AMONG UNDER-REPRESENTED MINORITY STUDENTS

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.

Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose Across the Lifespan
BRINGING PURPOSE TO HEALTHY EATING FOR ADOLESCENTS: A CLASSROOM-BASED INTERVENTION EXPERIMENT

Principal Investigator: Christopher Bryan, Assistant Professor, University of California at San Diego

In the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, interventions to promote healthy eating habits through health-based appeals have not worked.  The interventions that have had success are the ones that seem to bypass conscious or intentional processes and instead use environmental cues to shape behavior without people’s awareness.  However, it is not possible to shape all the environments that children find themselves in. So if children could be taught to purposefully shape their own environments to promote healthy eating, more significant and lasting improvements in health could be achieved. The authors propose an intervention that aligns healthy eating with developmentally heightened adolescent drives to assert their autonomy, combat injustice, and define a positive identity.  That is, it seeks to give healthy eating a purpose. 

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

 
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