Americans find meaning in family, not careers, surveys find

In closed-ended questions, more people reported getting a “great deal” of meaning or fulfillment from being outdoors, reading or listening to music than from their jobs or careers.

Photo: Andreas Wohlfahrt

As the holiday season descends upon us, we should all be grateful for the family visits and three-hour dinners headed our way. According to two new surveys, our family is how most of us derive meaning from this crazy world.

After trying to pinpoint what Americans use as a source of fulfillment, Pew Research Center found that we overwhelmingly attribute our sense of purpose to our families. 69% of respondents to an open-ended survey question mentioned family when asked what gives them a sense of meaning, and even in closed-ended questions, the same number said spending time with family provides a “great deal” of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.

Comparatively, a much smaller group of people looked to their jobs or careers for meaning. 34% of respondents said their work provides a “great deal” of meaning for them, and only 4% said it was their most important source of meaning.

Financial wellbeing, something jobs, and careers tend to provide, also ranked. 23% of people mentioned money as something that gave them a sense of meaning.

Here are a few more takeaways from the recent Pew report.

Do-gooders be damned

Though Americans may pride ourselves on our charity and desire to give back, our generosity doesn’t tend to spring to mind when we think about meaning.

According to the report, topics “such as doing good and belonging to a group or community” were mentioned in open-ended answers, “but these were not as common” as responses about hobbies, friendships or even living in a nice place.

Which brings us to…

Leisure

In closed-ended questions, more people reported getting a “great deal” of meaning or fulfillment from being outdoors, reading or listening to music than from their jobs or careers. 11% of respondents with a college degree also mentioned travel as a source of meaning.

But what about faith?

Given that we live in a country based on a Protestant work ethic, one might expect that a good number of Americans would report their source of meaning as faith or religion. But only 20% of respondents mentioned spirituality and faith. Even in closed-ended questions, only 36% of people said their religious faith gave them a “great deal” of meaning.

“By this measure, religious faith ranks lower,” the report reads. “But among those who do find a great deal of meaning in their religious faith, more than half say it is the single most important source of meaning in their lives.”

So what does this all mean? Well, no matter how much our families drive us crazy this holiday season, we have to remember how much they mean to us. And when we need a break, we can always listen to some music or pick up a book.

Alexandra Villarreal|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at avillarreal@theladders.com.