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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How to Create New Paths to Purpose?
New Paths to Purpose is a project aimed at using behavioral science to transform how we think about and experience purpose - to scientifically explore how purpose may, much more than we recognize, reflect and propel everyday patterns of human thought and behavior. [Time: 1:40]
New Paths to Purpose: Project Descriptions
New Paths to Purpose is a project aimed at using behavioral science to transform how we think about and experience purpose - to scientifically explore how purpose may, much more than we recognize, reflect and propel everyday patterns of human thought and behavior. [Time 2:24]
New Paths to Purpose Project Infographic
Asymmetries Between Positives and Negatives
How people react to negatives (what they dislike) is not always symmetric to how they react to positives (what they like). We propose a theoretical framework that links three potentially general types of positive–negative asymmetries: asymmetry in prediction errors (people err more when predicting others' attitudes about positives than about negatives), asymmetry in consensus (people agree more among themselves about negatives than about positives), and asymmetry in base rates (there are more negatives than positives). Our theory further explores a moderator for these asymmetries – importance of the stimulus to the self: greater importance engenders greater positive–negative asymmetries. We provide empirical evidence for our theory and discuss the boundaries and implications of our propositions and findings.
Hsee, C.K., Rottenstreich, Y., Tang, J. (2014). Asymmetries between positives and negatives. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 8, 699-707. DOI: 10.1111/spc3.12143
If It’s Useful and You Know It, Do You Eat?
Marketers, educators, and caregivers often refer to instrumental benefits to convince preschoolers to eat (e.g., “This food will make you strong”). We propose that preschoolers infer that if food is instrumental to achieve a goal, it is less tasty, and therefore they consume less of it. Accordingly, we find that preschoolers (3–5.5 years old) rated crackers as less tasty and consumed fewer of them when the crackers were presented as instrumental to achieving a health goal (studies 1–2). In addition, preschoolers consumed fewer carrots and crackers when these were presented as instrumental to knowing how to read (study 3) and to count (studies 4–5). This research supports an inference account for the negative impact of certain persuasive messages on consumption: preschoolers who are exposed to one association (e.g., between eating carrots and intellectual performance) infer another association (e.g., between carrots and taste) must be weaker.
Maimaran, M., Fishbach, A. (2014). If It's Useful and You Know It, Do You Eat?: Preschoolers Refrain from Instrumental Food. Journal of Consumer Research, (41)3, 642-655. DOI: 10.1086/677224
High productivity and high earning rates brought about by modern technologies make it possible for people to work less and enjoy more, yet many continue to work assiduously to earn more. Do people overearn—forgo leisure to work and earn beyond their needs? This question is understudied, partly because in real life, determining the right amount of earning and defining overearning are difficult. In this research, we introduced a minimalistic paradigm that allows researchers to study overearning in a controlled laboratory setting. Using this paradigm, we found that individuals do overearn, even at the cost of happiness, and that overearning is a result of mindless accumulation—a tendency to work and earn until feeling tired rather than until having enough. Supporting the mindless-accumulation notion, our results show, first, that individuals work about the same amount regardless of earning rates and hence are more likely to overearn when earning rates are high than when they are low, and second, that prompting individuals to consider the consequences of their earnings or denying them excessive earnings can disrupt mindless accumulation and enhance happiness.
Hsee, C. K., Zhang, J., Cai, C. F., Zhang, S. (2013). Psychological Science, 24(6), 852-859. doi: 10.1177/0956797612464785
Unit Asking: A Method to Boost Donations and Beyond
The solicitation of charitable donations costs billions of dollars annually. Here, we introduce a virtually costless method for boosting charitable donations to a group of needy persons: merely asking donors to indicate a hypothetical amount for helping one of the needy persons before asking donors to decide how much to donate for all of the needy persons. We demonstrated, in both real fund-raisers and scenario-based research, that this simple unit-asking method greatly increases donations for the group of needy persons. Different from phenomena such as the foot-in-the-door and identifiable-victim effects, the unit-asking effect arises because donors are initially scope insensitive and subsequently scope consistent. The method applies to both traditional paper-based fund-raisers and increasingly popular Web-based fund-raisers and has implications for domains other than fund-raisers, such as auctions and budget proposals. Our research suggests that a subtle manipulation based on psychological science can generate a substantial effect in real life.
Hsee, C. K., Zhang, J., Lu, Z. Y., Xu, F. (2013). Psychological Science, 24(9), 1801-1808.
Hedonomics: Bridging Decision Research with Happiness Research
One way to increase happiness is to increase the objective levels of external outcomes; another is to improve the presentation and choices among external outcomes without increasing their objective levels. Economists focus on the first method. We advocate the second, which we call hedonomics. Hedonomics studies (a) relationships between presentations (how a given set of outcomes are arranged among themselves or relative to other outcomes) and happiness and (b) relationships between choice (which option among alternative options one chooses) and happiness.
Hsee, C. K., Hastie, R., & Chen, J. (2008). Hedonomics: Bridging decision research with happiness research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(3), 224–243. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00076.x
Idleness Aversion and the Need for Justifiable Busyness
There are many apparent reasons why people engage in activity, such as to earn money, to become famous, or to advance science. In this report, however, we suggest a potentially deeper reason: People dread idleness, yet they need a reason to be busy. Accordingly, we show in two experiments that without a justification, people choose to be idle; that even a specious justification can motivate people to be busy; and that people who are busy are happier than people who are idle. Curiously, this last effect is true even if people are forced to be busy. Our research suggests that many purported goals that people pursue may be merely justifications to keep themselves busy.
Hsee, C. K., Yang, A. X., & Wang, L. (2010). Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness. Psychological Science, 21(7), 926–30. doi:10.1177/0956797610374738