I want to share an interesting piece of research I came across recently, which particularly relates to young people and the power of purpose. We are confronted by a very different world in modern times – one in which hyper connectivity, media saturation, political and economic tensions (think Brexit and rising global debt levels), and ongoing conflicts still present in many developing nations, can create uncertainty and anxiety for those younger members of society heading into adulthood. These anxieties and uncertainties are also felt by those responsible for our young people; teachers and parents who want to ensure they are equipped to not just cope, but to thrive into the future.
In a study undertaken in Greece, a region that has been heavily impacted through the global financial crisis, and faced considerable challenges and a stagnated recovery, 230 adolescents were surveyed and interviewed. The researchers measured youths’ purpose in life - their “long-term, forward-looking intention to accomplish aims that are both meaningful to the self and of consequence to the broader world.” The surveys also measured their optimism, resilience, future expectations - how the economic crisis influenced the life they expected to have in the next five years - and their knowledge and beliefs about the economy.
What Professor Kendall Bronk found was that youth with greater purpose were both more resilient and more optimistic: They could better adapt when they faced setbacks and they believed things would improve. In turn, particularly thanks to their resilience, they were also more likely to have brighter expectations.
“The resilience that stemmed from leading a life of purpose enabled young people to envision a positive future,” explain Bronk and her colleagues.
The survey participants which were classified as ‘purposeful’ focused on attending to their professional growth and fulfillment. For example, when the researchers asked about the meaning of living a good life, one participant replied, “Succeeding in the field I’ve chosen to study, to climb the ladder. I mean to acquire skills that will be useful for me to be productive.” Another purposeful adolescent described, “Whatever we do, it should be something we enjoy. Really love it, I mean. The problem is that most people just do what they must because they need the money.” In other words, they were trying to thrive rather than merely survive.
So how can we help teens find purpose? The Greater Good Science Centre, based at Berkeley University, California offers many articles which can provide some guidance around this, with both articles below well worth a read.
Professor Bronk, who was responsible for the Greek purpose study, offers five suggestions that can help us work with the teens in our lives to help them reflect and potentially discover their purpose:
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