October 23, 2019

What keeps you going? How Americans find meaning in life

Pew Research Center surveyed people to find out what makes life fulfilling for them. Family and career rank high on the list.

Respondents of a Pew Research Center survey said spending time with family gave their life meaning. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

What helps you find meaning in life? One survey found our answers likely don’t differ too much.

Pew Research Center surveyed Americans in 2017 to find out what they think gives their life meaning, what they do to make their lives fulfilling, and what keeps them going.

The survey indicated that time spent with family ranks as the most meaningful part of life. It ranked No. 1 across all demographic groups. Among the 69 percent of those listing family, some referred to a spouse or partner, others discussed children and grandchildren.

About a third of respondents answered that their job or career gives meaning and fulfillment to their lives. Friendships are also important to Americans, with about 20 percent mentioning their friends are what keep them going.

“A group of friends and I do water aerobics several times a week, then breakfast afterwards. They have become close confidants and just fun to be with. I would be lost without them,” said one respondent.

Pew found 16 percent of people mentioned good health for themselves and loved ones helped make life meaningful. Senior Citizens were especially grateful for good health. Inversely, young people under the age of 30 rated education and the opportunity to learn very highly. Overall 11 percent of Americans believe learning and education brings meaning to their lives.

“What keeps me going is the huge number of things I haven’t learned, places I haven’t been to, activities I haven’t tried, and people I haven’t met,” one person told Pew. “I like to set vague goals and go in that direction to see where I end up, because as long as it’s enjoyable and fulfilling along the way, it was a worthwhile goal.”

Doing good and making a difference was also mentioned in the survey, though it didn’t rank highly, 7 percent of Americans talked about how helping others in some way helped keep them going. Of that group, 5 percent say they are aiming high to make a difference in the world.

“I am still working and volunteer with many nonprofits in my area. I have been singled out as a volunteer role model,” one respondent told Pew. “I’m no longer young and I should be getting ready to relax. But I feel a renewed enthusiasm for life!”

“My volunteer job working at a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. The people and experiences I have are like nothing else, I learn something new every week,” said another.

While different segments of the population answered differently, many of the same answers emerged over and over again, no matter the respondent.

“Invariably we find common ground and no matter how different people seem on sight, I find we all have the same experiences and understanding of life. We’re all in the same gang, guys!!!” said one person.

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