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Moral flourishing in later life through purpose beyond the self

Publication Authors: 
Anne Colby, Matthew Bundick, Kathleen Remington, & Emily Morton
Publication Year: 
Publication Journal: 
In L. Jensen (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Moral Development: An Interdisciplinary Perspective.

This chapter reports on a U.S. national study of purpose beyond the self in men and women aged 50-92. The study includes a survey of 1198 and interviews with 102 survey respondents. Defining purpose as an ongoing commitment to goals that are meaningful to the self and aim to contribute beyond the self, along with sustained action toward those goals, the survey found that 31% of respondents are purposeful, with roughly equal prevalence across age, gender, income, marital status, education, and health status. Both survey data and analyses of interviews that clearly exemplify purpose indicate that purposeful individuals strongly exhibit many aspects of psychological flourishing as compared with their non-purposeful peers. The chapter uses interview material to describe the sources of meaning and satisfaction that characterize purposeful and non-purposeful older adults.