Human flourishing and public health

July 11, 2019 — What does it mean for someone to flourish? Flourishing is more than just being happy—although that’s a part of it. But the idea of flourishing expands beyond happiness to look at a person’s overall well-being, taking into account things like life satisfaction or someone’s sense of purpose. That’s why studying flourishing is an interdisciplinary science drawing on public health, philosophy, psychology, and more.

In this week’s episode we’re talking to two researchers from Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University who are tackling big questions about flourishing: What does it mean for people to flourish? How do we measure it? And are there things that make people more or less likely to flourish?

Our guests are Tyler VanderWeele, director of the Human Flourishing Program and John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School, and Matthew Wilson, associate director of the Human Flourishing Program and a research associate at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

You can sign up here for a monthly research e-mail from the Human Flourishing Program, or click here to follow them on Twitter. You can also check out the Human Flourishing Blog, hosted by Psychology Today.

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Full Transcript

NOAH LEAVITT: Coming up on Harvard Chan: This Week in Health…

Human flourishing and public health.

TYLER VANDERWEELE: Flourishing is a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good

NOAH LEAVITT: In this week’s episode we explore what it means for people to flourish, how we can measure it, and ways to help reach that state where all aspects of their life are good.


NOAH LEAVITT: Hello and welcome to Harvard Chan: This Week in Health. I’m Noah Leavitt.

In this week’s episode we’re talking about flourishing.

Flourishing is more than just being happy—although that’s a part of it. But the idea of flourishing expands beyond happiness to look at a person’s overall well-being, taking into account things like life satisfaction or someone’s sense of purpose.

That’s why studying flourishing is an interdisciplinary science drawing on public health, philosophy, psychology, and more.

And in this week’s episode we’re talking to two Harvard researchers who are tackling big questions about flourishing: What does it mean for people to flourish? How do we measure it? And are there things that make people more or less likely to flourish?

Those are just some of the questions being asked—and answered—by Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program.

And I recently had the chance to sit down with two of the program’s leaders.

Tyler VanderWeele is the program director and John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School.

And Matthew Wilson is the associate director and a research associate at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, where the Human Flourishing Program is housed.

Together with other researchers they’ve created a system for measuring flourishing by focusing on five areas: happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships.

If you want to learn more about the work of the Human Flourishing Program, we’ll have much more information on our website, just go to to find this episode.

But now, let’s jump into my interview with Tyler VanderWeele and Matthew Wilson.

NOAH LEAVITT: Tyler, you’re an epidemiologist biostatistician. Matt, your background is in philosophy. So how did you two originally connect and start working together?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard was founded about three years ago. And the idea was to try to bring together different disciplines on this topic of human flourishing, including empirical work from public health and medicine and the social sciences but also work in philosophy and theology. And as we continued with this work, it became clear that we needed greater input from philosophers on human flourishing. In addition, as we grew, the need for an associate director became clear. And Matt Wilson came along, who had a background both in business administration and a PhD in philosophy. So it really was a perfect match.

MATTHEW WILSON: Yeah. I got very interested in the program when one of my colleagues, Jeff Hanson, reached out to me and told me about the program and all the work it was during. My own background is in philosophy– specifically, in character and virtue, which is one of the pillars of our research program. And so that really got me interested. And of course, having met the team, we’ve got a great team assembled. So I was really excited to come on board.

NOAH LEAVITT: So what is flourishing? When we think about it in terms of the work you’re doing, what does flourishing encompass?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So the working definition we’ve been using at the Human Flourishing Program is that flourishing is a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good. And so it’s a pretty broad, all-encompassing definition. And it can be challenging to operationalize that, to study it. And moreover, the notion of flourishing and what that consists of is likely to differ across different cultural and religious and philosophical traditions.

And so the approach we’ve been taking is to focus on what seems common to all of these different understandings of flourishing. And the argument we would make is that whatever else flourishing might consist of, it would also include the following five domains of human life as well– first, happiness and life satisfaction; second, mental and physical health; third, meaning and purpose; fourth, character and virtue; and fifth, close social relationships. The argument is not that that’s what exhausts flourishing, but that whatever else a conception of flourishing might include, it would include these five domains as well. And so that’s principally what we’ve been studying.

NOAH LEAVITT: And so how did you arrive at those? As you said, that doesn’t mean it’s everything. But maybe those are most representative of what it means, where all elements of your life are good. So how did you arrive at those pillars?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So I would argue that each of those five pillars is first, nearly universally desirable. Pretty much everyone wants to be happy and healthy, to be a good person, to have a sense of purpose, to have good relationships. So it’s nearly universally desired. And also, each of those domains constitutes their own end. They’re sought not just for the sake of something else, but they’re sought for their own sake.

And I think those two criteria, of being universally desired and being sought as its own end, can help shape consensus on what to measure. Again, I think any given religious or philosophical tradition will likely have other important aspects of flourishing, like spiritual well-being, for example. But I think nearly every tradition and every time period, if we look across time and space, these things are sought. And so that was really what motivated the selection of those five.

NOAH LEAVITT: So I know your colleague, another researcher here at the school, Vishal Nath, commonly says, health is more than just the absence of disease– this idea that health is– there’s mental. There’s other aspects there. So how does this idea of flourishing and these pillars fit into public health in general?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So the World Health Organization’s definition of health is that health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. And that definition is still in place today. And so it’s a fairly broad conception of health but I think an important one, and I think one which corresponds more accurately to how people think about their own lives.

And so while I think it is the case that this is what people are seeking, often our studies within public health are more narrowly focused on specific disease states. And it’s important to understand those. And the advances that have been made in this regard are tremendous. But I think the powerful tools and methodologies that have developed out of public health can be used to study these other outcomes that people care about as well.

I sometimes find it remarkable that we know so much more, for example, about the determinants of cardiovascular disease than we do about the determinants of what gives rise to a sense of purpose in life, despite that being a desired end for almost everyone. And so what we’re trying to do at the Human Flourishing Program is to take the same sorts of methodologies that have been successful in studying physical health and apply it to these other outcomes as well. So we might distinguish between, on the one hand, the health or wholeness of the body and the health or wholeness of the person.

And I think once we focus on the wholeness of the person, we end up not just with physical health but also with things like happiness, like good relationships, like trying to be a good person, like having a sense of purpose. So we still would view this as part of the mission of the School of Public Health and the study of health, but really the health of the person and not just of the body.

NOAH LEAVITT: Yeah. It seems like almost a broadening of what public health is and can be.

TYLER VANDERWEELE: That is the goal. Our hope is that others would join us in this sort of work and endeavor in health and in public health and in medicine, and that when it comes to decision making and prioritization of resources, that these other outcomes would be considered as well. I think sometimes, for example, years of disease-free survival might be in conflict with loss of purpose or difficulties with relationships, when certain surgical procedures, say, can have pretty negative side effects. And these things really should be weighed in medicine and within our work in public health. So I do think it is important to broaden our conception of what health is in this regard. I think there’s a lot of interest in doing this. And we do hope others will join us.

MATTHEW WILSON: Tyler, that’s really interesting. And you said about broadening the conception of public health– one thing that occurs to me that’s really interesting about that concept is the broadening needs to include more disciplines, which is one of the aims of our program, is to bring these traditional disciplines from the humanities– philosophy and theology– together with health sciences and the social sciences. When you’re purely studying cardiovascular disease, there’s not much that I or any other philosopher is going to have much to say about that. But when you start talking about things like meaning and purpose or character and virtue, and then going out and trying to measure that, that’s really where the dialogue between the social sciences and the humanities starts to come together.

NOAH LEAVITT: So I do want to talk about the measurement in a moment. But just to follow up on that, I think that’s an interesting point about bringing different disciplines together. So what strengths do you feel like the people of the Human Flourishing Program who are the philosophers, who have the background in the humanities– what kind of strengths do you bring that maybe someone from public health maybe doesn’t have? How does that balance work?

MATTHEW WILSON: Yeah. So I think there’s a rich history of thought dating all the way back to Aristotle, who was probably one of the first thinkers– him and Plato– to think about what it means to flourish as a human being. And I think some of the strength is just being able to draw on those historical resources and conceptual distinctions that have already been made throughout the history of Western thought.

But then there’s also a disciplinary rigor, I think, to philosophy and theology to really– we really want to make these conceptual distinctions right. And so when we’re thinking about something like meaning and purpose, meaning of life versus meaning in life, what do these things really mean? How do we tease these out when we actually, then, sit down to write these particular question items that might try to assess those?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: Yeah. I think the question of meaning and purpose is an interesting one in this regard. And there have been an increasing number of empirical studies within public health suggesting that having a sense of purpose in life leads to a longer life. Your chances of dying over a 10-year period, if you have a high sense in purpose, are reduced about 20%. But we have these questions– well, what is purpose and how do we measure it? And is it distinct from meaning?

And there, I think the measures we’ve typically been using in public health are actually somewhat muddled. And so one of the projects that we’ve taken on at the Human Flourishing Program is to develop a better measure of meaning and purpose, distinguishing between a purpose on the one hand, which is more end-directed, and meaning on the other, which is having a sense of the relation of things. And as Matt had indicated, there are further distinctions that can be drawn between what’s sometimes called coherence, or having a sense of the meaning of life– what are the answer to life’s big questions with regard to the origin of everything or where it’s all heading, versus what’s sometimes called significance or meaning in life.

How do I find and evaluate my activities? What do I find valuable in my day-to-day life? And we think these are actually going to be quite differently associated with physical health outcomes but also, perhaps, have different determinants. And we need that precision and that conceptual rigor that the philosophers bring to establish good measures and I think ultimately, to study this well within public health.

NOAH LEAVITT: And so you both touch on measurement there. So how do you go about measuring flourishing? Because I’m guessing for a lot of listeners, they probably are sitting here thinking, OK, this sounds a little bit abstract. How do I get my head around this? So how do you measure flourishing? How do you measure those different pillars?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So what we’ve done is we have formed a brief 12-item questionnaire to try to very crudely assess flourishing, acknowledging that, in fact, flourishing as a concept is much broader. But if you’re going to measure something, you need specific questions. And so we have two questions in each of the five domains I had mentioned earlier, as well as two additional questions on financial and material stability, which we think are important means to sustain these other aspects of flourishing over time.

So for example, in the happiness and life satisfaction domain, we use a question– overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days? Zero, not at all satisfied; 10, completely satisfied. And the participants respond as they see their life at present. And that question is, in fact, used quite extensively by the UK’s national survey, by the OECD. A variant of that is used by the Gallup poll. And so we’re using that as well.

And what we’ve tried to do in each of these domains is to select questions which are regularly used in the well-being literature to allow for comparison. What’s unique about our approach is trying to do the data collection not just on happiness and not just on self rated physical health but across these other domains as well. But we’ve tried to build upon the existing well-being literature in each of these areas.

NOAH LEAVITT: So it seems like by doing that, you’re getting a more complete picture than you would just if you were asking questions about happiness or virtue or things like that. So you’re getting a more complete picture, then.

TYLER VANDERWEELE: That’s right. And we’ll be able to study whether certain medical interventions might affect one of the domains positively and not the other. We’ll also be able to study what the determinants are of flourishing across these different domains. And I think our approach is gaining some traction. The Journal of the American Medical Association actually just recently published a two-page piece explaining our measure and exploring its potential use for clinical purposes.

The Nurses Health Study 3, a large cohort study here being run out of Harvard, is going to start collecting this data in 2020. So once again, we’ll be able to understand what the determinants of flourishing are. And I think it’s relevant from a public health perspective. Often, we think of the public health impact of an exposure as a function of two things. On the one hand, how common is it? And on the other, how large are its effects?

Something that’s very common and has large effects is going to shape population health. And we think of physical health that way. We are led to determinants such as exercise, good sleep, good nutrition, not smoking. And these things do powerfully shape physical health. But when we use the same lens across these different flourishing domains and ask, what is common and also has positive effects, not just on physical health but also on happiness, on purpose, on character, and on relationships, we’re led to a somewhat different list.

And in our research and literature reviews, I would suggest four major pathways based on this public health impact lens that seem to be common and have large effects on these outcomes. And those pathways are family, education, work, and religious community. There’s pretty substantial empirical evidence that each of these is common in the US population and globally and also have profound effects on each of those flourishing outcomes. So I think it changes what we might want to focus our policies on. The promotion of these pathways would lead to greater flourishing.

NOAH LEAVITT: And is it the case that with these pathways that, in addition to promoting flourishing, that there can be aspects in family, for example, that might hinder flourishing? So what do we know about that in terms of not just the promotion of flourishing but also things that might hinder someone’s ability to flourish?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: Yeah, certainly. Each of these pathways that I mentioned are obviously complex. And there are things that can be done to enhance flourishing through each of them. We’ve begun studies, for example, of parenting practices within the family context. And those practices are sometimes divided across two axes, one of which concerns parental warmth or love, and the second of which concerns discipline or control.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, what we find is that those children and families with high warmth and love but also high discipline do particularly well. The next best group, which is interesting, is those with high warmth or love but low discipline. And they do considerably better than those with high discipline and low warmth. So we begin to get insight into what sorts of parenting practices are beneficial or are problematic.

Likewise, with the formation of a family and with marriage comes the possibility of divorce. And research very clearly indicates that, at least on average, divorce leads to lower levels of well-being for those who have separated and also for children. But I think that itself presents a set of opportunities with regard to, can resources be created that can help prevent a marriage from running into these problematic patterns before they get so bad that the only solution seems to be divorce?

So there’s some really interesting evidence-based empirical work on online marital support programs and counseling, which from the initial data, actually look a lot better and more effective than a lot of what’s taking place today. So I do think within each of those pathways and domains, there’s a lot of room and opportunity for further study.

NOAH LEAVITT: So is one of the things that you’re doing, essentially, would be to look at an existing intervention– for example, online marital support and then say, OK, does this make a difference in flourishing? So is that maybe part of the approach to see other things that we’re already doing that can make a difference here versus the need to develop a new intervention from scratch?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: Yes. So some of what we’re doing is evaluating what are existing interventions and looking at their effects, not just on physical health but across the flourishing domains. So we’re doing this, for example, with a set of interventions through the Mind Body Institute at Harvard. And they have a multi-component program which they call the SMART program, intended to help people with resilience. And they’ve been looking at the effects on mental health. But now we’ll also be looking at happiness, at relationships, at character, at having a sense of purpose.

Likewise, we’re partnering with a surgeon at UCLA to look at how different surgery options play out, not just on years of disease-free survival but on the flourishing domains. But in addition to that, we’re also looking at, perhaps, more unusual types of interventions and how these can promote flourishing across the five domains I had previously described. So we’ll be beginning next year in 2020 a randomized trial of a forgiveness intervention, a workbook that can be done on one’s own, that helps people who want to forgive but are having trouble doing so, to achieve forgiveness.

And this workbook is based on 30 years of work in clinical psychology. We’ll be testing it in randomized trials in six countries throughout the world– Columbia, South Africa, Ghana, Ukraine, China, and Indonesia– to look at the effects on forgiveness and on depression but also on all of the flourishing domains. And we’ll be doing something similar, actually, with a workplace intervention intending to focus the mind on the particular tasks at hand for at least one intensive hour a day and seeing if this, too, promotes these different aspects of flourishing. So we’re both trying to evaluate existing interventions and their effects on flourishing but also develop, perhaps, newer and somewhat different interventions intended to target these different domains.

MATTHEW WILSON: And one of the nice things about having a more holistic model is that when we are looking at a particular intervention, and say it didn’t necessarily increase life expectancy or reduce depression, which would be two common outcomes the public health would be interested in, maybe it delivers a greater sense of meaning and purpose or closer social relationships. And even if there’s not statistically significant moving of the needle in those other things, if it is providing that, then that is a contribution towards flourishing, which may have been overlooked otherwise.

NOAH LEAVITT: Tyler, you touched on this a moment ago, about what policies, for example, that promote flourishing. I’d be interested to know, based on the work you both have done so far, what can be done to promote flourishing at that societal broad level but also the individual level– for example, that study on parental warmth, on marriage counseling? So how do we address flourishing from the large population scale right down to– in people’s homes, for example, in their personal relationships?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So starting at the individual level, I think there’s a lot individuals can do in their daily practices that promote flourishing, much of which is now supported by rigorous empirical studies. So one example of this is the practice of gratitude. And randomized trials, again, have shown that if you, for example, three times a week write down three things that you’re grateful for and why you’re grateful for them and do this for six weeks, then even six months later, these people experience lower depression, higher levels of happiness, better sleep.

And another example of this is what’s sometimes called an act of kindness activity or intervention, where once a week you choose a day, and you try to do five acts of kindness that you wouldn’t otherwise do. And sure enough, again, if you do this for 6 weeks or for 10 weeks, then half a year later, once again, higher levels of happiness, less depression as well, in addition to the good you’ve done to all those people you’ve interacted with, of course. And the positive psychology literature has proposed a number of such interventions. Then I think on the institutional level, an individual can choose to engage with those meaningful communities that often shape other aspects of flourishing.

So while these positive psychology activities can be helpful in altering happiness and health, I don’t think they do as much for one’s sense of purpose in life or for character or building relationships. I think for those we really do need the community involvement. And I really do think that’s where family and education and work and religious communities can come into play. And then at the societal level, I think it’s worthwhile thinking about policies, not just through an economic lens but through a lens of flourishing.

If we take welfare policies, for example, while I think a lot of the economically-based welfare policies are well-intentioned and accomplish some good, they’re often oriented towards trying to promote someone’s financial stability and access to health care. And I think that’s great. I think that’s very important. But ones that dis-incentivize work I think are problematic because although economic and health needs may be met, work does more than just that.

It also provides a sense of purpose. It establishes important relationships. So I think it’s important to shape welfare policies to allow for these other beneficial aspects of work. So I think there, too, that lens of flourishing can be quite helpful.

MATTHEW WILSON: Yeah. You asked about what people can do on the individual level. One interesting study that we had, which came out last September, was following a cohort of 5,000 children who had what we call a religious upbringing, which they either engaged in regular religious service attendance or regular prayer and meditation practices. The study followed those children for eight years into early adulthood.

And what we found was not only a reduced risk of the big three of adolescence, which are depression, substance abuse, and risky behaviors, but it also led to these really cool flourishing outcomes, like these children were 47% more likely to have a sense of mission and purpose, or they were 38% more likely to volunteer in their communities. And so we live in a very pluralistic society. But for those who are involved with some sort of faith community, one thing that you can do to improve individual flourishing is to stay committed to that community and to regularly attend religious services.

NOAH LEAVITT: It’s interesting to hear you talk about that. I know you’ve done, Tyler, some other previous research on the benefits of religion and spirituality. So how do we square the clear benefit of community and social groups with having a world that’s increasingly digital and social media focused and self-centered? So how do we square the benefits of community in a world that’s very digital, and a lot is being pushed online?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: My own view, and I do realize that perspectives are going to differ on this, is that we need to be careful with technologies, that they’ve delivered tremendous benefits, but that they’ve also, especially, I think in more recent years, pulled us away from those relationships, pulled us away from community. And I think the evidence is mounting that, in many cases, they’ve done so in not very healthy ways. Good studies in the epidemiologic literature now– not done by us but by others– suggesting that over the long run, the amount of time people are spending on Facebook is not contributing to their well-being.

I think we’ve also seen pretty substantial rises, especially amongst young people, in depression and anxiety. And I think a lot of that is that constant interaction with social media and technology. Rather than having time with people face-to-face, people are willing to say things on online platforms that they would never say in person. And as we spend more and more time in those sorts of settings, I think it can be problematic.

So I think technology has a lot of wonderful and important uses, but I think we need to make a real commitment to community life. And that can be difficult. It often is more demanding and at times can be challenging and unpleasant. But in the long run, that’s how deep relationships are formed. So I think we need to balance the benefits of technology with a care and a caution. And my own view is that community commitments, whether that’s a religious community or volunteering or at the workplace or in the classroom, is really important for a fourfold flourishing.

NOAH LEAVITT: I know another one of your recent papers highlighted the importance of physicians focusing on flourishing. Why is that important? And what would that look like in practice?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: I don’t think flourishing necessarily has a place in every single clinical encounter. I would not make that claim. But I think in certain contexts, it can be very helpful and very important. An example I gave earlier was surgery decisions. With tongue cancer, for example, years of disease-free survival may improve with surgery. But the side effects can be pretty awful. And so how do we balance those?

I think another place within medicine where this can be very important, this conception of flourishing, might be psychiatric care, where certainly addressing questions of mental illness itself can lead to better relationships and sense of meaning. But I think it’s also the case that sometimes the difficult relationships or the lack of meaning or struggles with character are themselves the causes of mental illness. And so I think there, also, it can be quite important.

And I think another place within medicine where this concept of flourishing might be very valuable is in thinking about physician burnout. Physician burnout rates are high. They’ve been increasing. Suicide rates amongst physicians are now higher than the general public. Over half of physicians now say if they had it to do over, they would not have entered medicine, which is quite shocking given the amount of good they do, given the high respect and esteem and salaries that are on offer. The fact that half would no longer re-engage and make the same decisions is remarkable and I think is pointing to the problems with physician burnout.

And so I think thinking about how do we get not just patients but physicians to flourish– what changes would be needed in the patterns and structure of their work– can large medical centers pay more attention to physician well-being? What is the role of technology and electronic medical records in physician burnout and physician well-being? I think all of these are really very important questions and places where that concept of flourishing may be important within medicine.

NOAH LEAVITT: What has surprised each of you most as has you’ve done this work over the last few years?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: One of the things that’s been surprising for me is how that when other researchers have experienced this interdisciplinary approach to well-being, how exciting they find it. We’ve hosted several interdisciplinary conferences, one on suffering, one on the measurement of well-being, one on religious communities, one on meaning of life. And sometimes there’s a little bit of initial skepticism. What am I as a psychologist, say, going to speak about to a philosopher or a theologian? But people have been willing to participate.

And when they come, they find it really exciting. So the empirical researchers often find the rich conceptions that are available in philosophy and theology very helpful in their own work and thinking. And likewise, the philosophers we’ve had present have often found the empirical data that’s been presented very helpful in their own work and sometimes in tension with reigning ideas within philosophy. So I think that exchange can be beneficial in both directions. And I think often that skepticism has led to a real appreciation of the richness and importance of approaching these topics from a multidisciplinary perspective.

MATTHEW WILSON: It’s just one example illustrating that– I think I would have to agree with Tyler, that personally seeing these disciplines coming together and informing one another has been one of the really cool things about being a part of this program. And the example I have in mind is regarding this question of the meaning of life. Philosophers, at least some philosophers, would tend to think that one of the components to having a really meaningful life would be a constant sense of opportunity and variety. Boredom in philosophy is one of the things that we really want to avoid.

But interestingly, there’s empirical research which shows that rhythm and routine and regular schedule actually empirically increases people’s rates of meaning in life on these certain types of questions. And so this is a place where empirical science is actually challenging what was thought to be purely something in the domain of philosophy. But that’s where developing good measures that can try to get at these different aspects of meaning, I think, is an important place where philosophy can really come together with the empirical sciences.

NOAH LEAVITT: Tyler, you touched on it a few minutes ago, but I always like to finish by asking people, what are some of the big questions, the big unanswered questions that you still have and that you’re looking to answer and the ones that, I think, make you most excited to continue doing this work?

TYLER VANDERWEELE: So I touched on this earlier, but I think one of the exciting research projects we’re taking on right now– and I don’t know how it will play out– is to really come to a better understanding of what shapes a sense of meaning and purpose in life. And the initial results that we have, I think, are quite interesting, which is that it’s much more malleable in adolescence and young adulthood than it is later in life. And that later in life it’s hard to change. It’s much easier to change and increase people’s levels of happiness and life satisfaction than it is their sense of meaning and purpose.

Even something like religious service attendance, which I had expected to profoundly change sense of meaning and purpose, it does in early adulthood. But its effects are much, much smaller later in life. It has a much more profound effect on life satisfaction and happiness than it does on purpose. The one exception we’ve found to this is volunteering later in life, which has larger effects on purpose than it does on happiness and I think maybe an important means for people later in life, to find that sense of purpose again.

And I think this research is relevant as our population ages and as people retire. They’re still looking for something to fill that time, to find that purpose again. And so trying to understand what these determinants are and how to help people in this regard, I think is very important and largely understudied. So we’re trying to do this now with meaning and purpose across a number of different research studies.

And we hope longer-term to be able to do something similar with different measures of character as well. And again, it’s using those methodologic tools from public health, from biomedical and social science research, to study these other really important things. And I think it’s important work. And I’m really excited to see how it develops and what we learn.