The Search for Purpose in Life: An Exploration of Purpose, the Search Process, and Purpose Anxiety

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the search for purpose
purpose anxiety
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This paper is concerned with the search for purpose—defined as the attempt to find or enact one’s unique purpose in life. While much is known about the benefits of a purposeful existence (i.e., higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and general well-being, reduced risk for psychopathologies, and greater physical health), far less is known about the effects of the search process. The first half of this document reviews what psychologists know about purpose, the benefits of purpose, and the search for purpose. The second half explores a new construct: purpose anxiety, a term meant to encapsulate the negative ramifications of the struggle for purpose in life. It also presents the findings of an original research study conducted to gather empirical data on purpose, the search for purpose, and purpose anxiety as perceived and experienced by American adults. Results indicated that the vast majority of people crave a sense of purpose in life, but nearly always encounter purpose anxiety during their search process, no matter the searcher’s age. Results also showed that purpose anxiety significantly hampers well-being—both overall and each element of PERMA. This project in no way intends to suggest that individuals should avoid searching for purpose. Rather, it merely means to enhance psychology’s knowledge of the search process so that interventions may be developed to prevent or mitigate the psychological distress that so often accompanies the struggle for purpose in life.

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