What Brings Meaning to Life? Depends Who's Weighing In

Faith is a most popular response in the US, but nowhere else
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2021 11:20 AM CST
What Brings Meaning to Life? Depends Who's Weighing In
A family holds hands while saying grace ahead of a Thanksgiving meal.   (Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages)

Try not to underappreciate your family this Thanksgiving. According to Pew Research Center, family is the No. 1 source of meaning among 18,850 adults in 17 advanced economies, who were asked between February and May to rank 17 possible sources of meaning in their lives. Family was the top answer in 14 countries, including the US, where 49% of respondents mentioned it. "Highlighting their relationships with parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren, people frequently mention quality time spent with their kinfolk, the pride they get from the accomplishments of their relatives, and even the desire to live a life that leaves an improved world for their offspring," according to the report.

Occupation was the second most popular choice in eight countries, including Canada, France, Sweden, Singapore, and Australia. A whopping 43% of Italian respondents described finding meaning in their job. Americans and Brits instead chose friends as a second choice. That was followed by material well-being, occupation, and faith in the US. About 17% of US respondents cited their job—down from 24% in 2017, per Gizmodo—while 15% cited spirituality and faith. Faith actually failed to make the top 10 in any other country, reports Bloomberg. The next highest percentage, from New Zealand respondents, was 5%, KTVI reports. Spirituality and faith didn't even get a mention out of Japan.

Right-leaning people were more likely to cite religion than left-leaning people, who were more apt to mention nature, friends, and hobbies. Hobbies was the third most popular response in the UK, with 1 in 5 ranking that option. Material well-being was one of the top three factors mentioned in nine countries, and the topmost one in South Korea. People said money allowed them to support their families, or gave them the freedom to do activities they enjoyed. People had similar reasons for choosing health, cited by 48% of Spanish respondents compared to 6% of Taiwanese, though people also describing finding meaning through exercise. (More meaning of life stories.)

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