A Sense Of Purpose Makes Adolescents Feel Happier And Satisfied

Adolescents who have a greater sense of purpose may be happier and more content with life than peers who feel less purposeful, according to a recent study of over 200 teenagers.
Studies with adults have found that having a sense of purpose in life is an essential component of happiness, fuelling hope and optimism and having several good consequences on people’s physical and mental health. According to the study, little is known about the consequences of purposefulness among adolescents, who, while generally positive, are in the throes of building their identities and making decisions that represent who they are and aspire to be. The current study, directed by educational psychology professor Kaylin Ratner of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, investigated how youngsters’ emotions of purposefulness connected to their daily levels of life satisfaction and subjective well-being.

Feeling purposeful made adolescents feel better

“Teens who scored high on purpose were more satisfied with their lives, experienced more positive emotions, and experienced fewer negative emotions,” said Ratner, who gathered the data while working as a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University. “Most importantly, we discovered that on days when these adolescents felt more purposeful than usual, they also tended to feel better.” Anthony L. Burrow, the Ferris Family Professor of Life Course Studies, and the head of the Bonfenbrenner Centre for Translational Research, and Qingyi Li and Gaoxia Zhu, both then-postdoctoral research fellows of Cornell University, were among her co-authors.

Behavioural patterns related to teens’ overall happiness

The project, which was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, also investigated how subclinical autistic traits that fell below the diagnostic threshold for autism – behavioural and cognitive patterns such as poor social skills and difficulty shifting one’s attention – related to these teens’ sense of purpose in life and overall happiness. For 70 days, the participants, ages 14 to 19, were asked to rate how purposeful they felt, how content they were with their lives, and their levels of positive and negative emotions. All participants in the study were members of GripTape, a countrywide organization in the United States that aims to create a feeling of agency in kids by giving them the means to pursue a 10-week Learning Challenge project of their choice.

Daily purpose scores and happiness

According to the report, applicants whose Learning Challenge applications are selected receive up to a $500 stipend and an adult mentor who helps them pursue a project they are enthusiastic about, such as starting a small business or investigating higher education resources for undocumented youth.   Melody Estevez, GripTape’s research manager, was also a co-author of the study. The study participants completed a 28-item survey at the start of the Learning Challenge to determine their levels of subclinical autistic features. Ratner explained that a higher aggregate score indicated that the youngster possessed a greater quantity of these characteristics. Each day, the participants completed assessments, assessing their current sense of purpose on a five-point scale. Ratner’s team averaged these daily purpose scores to estimate each person’s dispositional sense of purpose (their characteristic level of this feature) across the course of the 70-day study. The researchers also tracked the youths’ daily variations in purposefulness by subtracting their daily purpose score from their dispositional degree of purpose.

Positive emotions and a sense of purpose

Participants in the study evaluated how much they felt four positive emotions – content, calm, eager, or cheerful – and four negative emotions – angry, nervous, sluggish, or sad – on daily assessments. The composite positive and negative emotional affect ratings of the participants, as well as their life satisfaction scores, were utilized to determine their psychological well-being. The team discovered that feeling more purposeful than normal on any given day was a unique predictor of individuals’ emotional well-being on such days, regardless of their dispositional level of purposefulness. “Our findings show that no matter where you are in comparison with your peers when you feel more purposeful than usual, you have better outcomes,” Ratner said. “Purpose is accessible to everyone. What we need to do is help individuals feel more purposeful from day to day.”

Purposefulness may yield better well-being for people with autism

Ratner and her colleagues discovered that participants with more subclinical autistic features reported higher levels of negative sentiments and lower levels of life satisfaction and good sensations from day to day. These characteristics, however, had no effect on the strength of the connection between well-being and daily purpose. In other words, those with more of these attributes appeared to be able to gain well-being benefits at levels comparable to their colleagues with fewer of these traits, according to Ratner. She did warn, however, that the findings might alter for children with documented clinical diagnoses of autism. “Our 70-day study is one of the most consistent examinations of youths’ purposefulness to date and helps cement the beneficial influence it has on their well-being,” Ratner said. “With the groundwork laid by this study, interventions that promote purposefulness may be viable routes to enhancing the well-being of many young people, including neurodiverse youths.” The study’s population was 70% female. Almost 31% were Asian, 22% African American or Black, 18% Caucasian, and 14% Hispanic. The findings may not be generalizable, according to the researchers, because the sample was not typical of the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity among youths in the general U.S. population. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, provided funding for the study.

Story Source: Materials provided by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau. Original written by Sharita Forrest. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Kaylin Ratner, Qingyi Li, Gaoxia Zhu, Melody Estevez, Anthony L. Burrow. Daily Adolescent Purposefulness, Daily Subjective Well-Being, and Individual Differences in Autistic Traits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2023; DOI: 10.1007/s10902-023-00625-7

Page citation: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau. “A sense of purpose may have a significant impact on teens’ emotional well-being.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/02/230213201032.htm>.

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