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:
- Model purpose - sharing the things that give our own lives purpose helps introduce teens to both the language and reflective purpose which may lead them on their purpose journey.
- Focus on the strengths and values teens possess - by helping our teens identify their interests, passions and strengths we may enable them to uncover their purpose.
- Foster gratitude - helping young people reflect on the blessings they have and the people who have blessed them naturally inclines young people to consider how they want to give back.
- Encourage youth to reach out to friends and families - encourage young people to reach out to adults who know them well, asking:
- What do you think I’m particularly good at? What are my greatest strengths?
- What do you think I really enjoy doing? When do you think I’m most engaged?
- How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world?
- Focus on the far horizon - broach conversations that focus on the bigger picture. Ask adolescents to imagine things have gone as well as they could have hoped, and now they’re 40 years of age. What will they be doing? Who will be in their life? What will be important to them? Why?
This long-term thinking helps youth focus on what it is they want out of life. And don’t forget the whys
; - purpose often appears when considering the whys!
For a full copy of the article please click here
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