Meaning and Purpose

Determinants of Purpose Bridge

Determinants of Purpose

The Determinants of Purpose project seeks to understand what brings purpose in life. Nearly everyone desires purpose, and yet we know remarkably little empirically about what leads to purpose in life. The determinants of purpose project aims to remedy this deficiency in our knowledge.


Measurement of Meaning 

The Measurement of Meaning project aims to bring insights and distinctions from the philosophical literature on meaning in life, and the meaning of life, to develop better measures of meaning and purpose. Recent work in the philosophical and psychological literature on meaning has drawn important distinctions between “significance” (what gives one meaning in life), “coherence” (understanding deeper questions of the meaning of life) and “purpose” (being directed towards a certain end). Other important distinctions pertain to objective versus subjective notions of meaning, personal versus global understandings of meaning, and different levels of the hierarchy of purpose ranging from goals to purposes to a sense of vocation or calling. The Measurement of Meaning project aims to make use of these important distinctions to develop comprehensive measures of meaning and purpose, useful both for personal reflection, and for empirical research.

Publications on Meaning and Purpose

Nakamura, J.S., Ryff, C.D., Chen, Y., Folk, D., Heine, S.J., VanderWeele, T.J., and Kim, E.S. (2022). What makes life purposeful? Identifying the antecedents of a sense of purpose in life using a lagged exposure-wide approach. SSM – Population Health, in 19:101235.

Okuzono, S.S., Shiba, K., Kim, E.S., Shirai, K., Kondo, N., Fujiwara, T., Kondo, K., Lomas, T., Trudel-Fitzgerald, C., Kawachi, I., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2022). Ikigai and subsequent health and wellbeing among Japanese older adults: longitudinal outcome-wide analysis. Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, 21:100391.

Kim, E.S., Nakamura, J.S., Chen, Y., Ryff, C.D., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2022). Sense of purpose in life and subsequent health and well-being in older adults: an outcome-wide analysis. American Journal of Health Promotion, 36:137-147.

Hanson, J.A. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2021). The Comprehensive Measure of Meaning: psychological and philosophical foundations. In: M. Lee, L.D. Kubzansky, and T.J. VanderWeele (Eds.). Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Oxford University Press, Chapter 12: 339-376.

Hanson, J.A. (2020). Perspectives on and standards of life's meaningfulness: a reply to Landau. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 23:561–573.

Chen, Y., Kim, E.S., Shields, A.E., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Antecedents of purpose in life: evidence from a lagged exposure-wide analysis. Cogent Psychology, 7:1825043.

Chen, Y., Kim, E.S., Koh, H.K., Frazier, A.L., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2019). Sense of mission and subsequent health and well-being among young adults: an outcome-wide analysisAmerican Journal of Epidemiology, 188(4):664-673.