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Beyond-the-Self Purpose Among the 'Greatest Generation'

Publication Authors: 
Jenni M. Mariano; George E. Vaillant

This paper was discussed in Paper discussion 4-048: Implications of youth purpose for positive adjustment, led by Jenni M. Mariano. Other papers discussed were:

  • The Beyond-the-Self Dimension of Adolescent Purpose
    Brandy Quinn
  • Purpose and Emotional Flourishing during Adolescence
    Anthony L. Burrow

Abstract: Purpose is a goal that is meaningful to self and directed at making a positive difference in the world beyond self (Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003). Thus, the two-pronged nature of purpose – as both pertaining to self and extending “beyond-the-self” (BTS) – has recently become of interest as it pertains to youth development and psychological adjustment. The papers in this symposium are thus positioned to explore key questions related to purpose and adjustment and, by virtue of their diverse methods, to present varied perspectives on the topic. The order of presentations first uncovers the nature of BTS purpose, and then explores positive adjustment variables associated with youth purpose. In Paper 1, a longitudinal study describes BTS purpose, then tracks its stability and movement across adolescence, in an ethnically diverse sample. Paper 2 compares differences in psychosocial variables in childhood, college, and adulthood based on the extent to which BTS purpose is present in one’s youth. Drawing on years of informant reports, paper 2 codes for BTS purpose in interview transcripts from young white high achieving men during the 1930’s. Paper 3 illumines implications of youth purpose for psychological adjustment and positive experience. Three studies test Frederickson and Losada’s (2005) prediction that individuals who consistently experience positive-to-negative emotion ratios at or above 2.9:1,the Losada Line, are more likely to flourish. This research found that the Losada Line meaningfully distinguishes youth with respect to purpose commitment. A discussion is organized about the conditions under which youth purpose is associated with positive development.