Family Ranks First in Pew Study on Personal Fulfillment

(CN) – For most Americans, the secret to happiness and purpose comes from family, according a pair of newly released surveys from the Pew Research Center.

The research center conducted two surveys last December, one featured open-ended questions about how people find meaning in their lives, while the second featured close-ended questions where participants ranked their preferred sources of happiness from a list of 15 options.

In the open-ended survey, after family, one-third of respondents talked about their careers, a quarter mentioned money, and one in five cited religious faith, friendships, or various hobbies.

“Yeah, family’s important,” said Curtis Bruckner, as he watched the Keno numbers refresh on a television monitor at a Randolph, Massachusetts, convenience store. “I’m hoping to get a few more reasons to be happy right here.”

Although Bruckner was getting some time away from the house after Thanksgiving, he said he gets purpose from his wife and son, making him part of the roughly 70 percent of Americans who the polls say find meaning in family.

The open-ended and close-ended surveys featured 4,867 and 4,729 respondents, respectively. It was the first time that the Pew Research Center specifically gauged the source of meaning and purpose for individuals.

Patrick van Kessel, a senior data scientist at Pew, said the open-ended survey helped illuminate the factors beyond family that gave individuals a sense of purpose.

“While it’s perhaps unsurprising that family was the most common response, we did notice some intriguing socioeconomic and demographic patterns,” Kessel said in an email. “On the open-ended question, those with higher household income or more education were more likely to mention friends, being in good health, and travel. And education in particular also affected whether respondents mentioned hobbies and activities and feeling a sense of stability or security.”

The open-ended survey also showed that one in four respondents with higher incomes and education levels said that friendship brought them happiness and purpose, compared to 14 percent of those who earn less than $30,000 a year.

Across town, in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Dennis Dimodica provides pro bono service from his landscaping business at Holy Name Church.

“I love my faith, but I come here for the community. That’s what this is all about,” he said.

According to the survey, politically conservative Americans are more likely than liberals to find meaning in religion, while liberals find more meaning in social causes.

Among respondents to the open-ended survey, 38 percent of conservatives referenced their religious faith, compared to just 7 percent of liberals. Meanwhile, 30 percent of liberals found meaning in political causes, compared to 12 percent of conservatives.

Pew Center Associate Director Greg Smith was surprised to see that religion ranked lower than the outdoors, spending time with friends, caring for pets or listening to music as a primary source of purpose for respondents.

“Religion ranks lower, on par with reading and careers,” Smith said in an interview. “But among those who do find a great deal of meaning in religion, more than half say it is the single most important source of meaning in their lives, far more than say the same about being outdoors, caring for pets and the like.”

Kessel also mentioned that there was a racial divide in which activities provided purpose.

“Black Americans mentioned spirituality and faith more than others, while white Americans were more likely to mention friends, finances, and enjoying where they live, compared to both blacks and Hispanics,” he said. “Black Americans also rarely mentioned pets and animals or nature and the outdoors, and we saw the same trend in the closed-ended questions.”

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