Are All Purposes Worth Having? Integrating Content and Strength in Purpose Research

Anthony L. Burrow, Jennifer P. Agans, Hee Jin Jeon, Michael Creim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


A prevailing belief is that a sense of purpose in life is worth having, based on evidence that it predicts greater psychological functioning, social relationships, physical health, and longevity. Yet, whether the benefits of having a sense of purpose persist across all contents - or the actual substance of one's aspirations - lingers as a critical blind spot within this literature. Here, we contend that an ecological systems perspective is needed to contextualize how purpose content either enables or extinguishes the benefits of feeling purposeful. We nominate congruence (the fit between a purpose and ecological conditions) and feasibility (the ease with which a purpose can be pursued) as measurable features of purpose content that fuse people and contexts and potentiate whether a sense of purpose proves favorable. Greater congruence and feasibility should orchestrate support for purpose-related goals, actions, and justifications, thus amplifying the likelihood of positive outcomes. Practical strategies for integrating the congruence and feasibility of individuals' aspirations within the study of purpose are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-112
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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