Early Beyond-the-Self Purpose and Later Life Psychological Well-Being
CitationLe, Amy. 2017. Early Beyond-the-Self Purpose and Later Life Psychological Well-Being. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Medical School.
AbstractPurpose: This study investigates whether beyond-the-self purpose established in early adulthood is associated with psychological well-being in mid to late life (ages 50-70).
Methods: From 1939 to 1942, 268 Harvard College sophomores were selected to participate in the Study of Adult Development (Heath, 1945). The summary of each participant’s intake interview was analyzed and the presence of purpose was determined using a reliable coding system which identified a goal, actions taken to achieve that goal, and the degree to which the goal was of consequence beyond the self. The participants’ lives were followed closely for over 75 years and documented through questionnaires administered every two years, physical exams every 5 years, and interviews every 15 years which provided a wealth of information including the participants’ psychological adjustment to aging, alcohol use, involvement in social organizations, commitment to volunteer or charity work, church attendance, and income.
Results: Of the 268 participants, 77 developed beyond-the-self purpose in college, 145 lacked beyond-the-self purpose in college, and 46 had insufficient information to determine whether or not they had beyond-the-self purpose in college. Men who manifested beyond-the-self purpose during college were rated by research staff over 40 years later as having a better adjustment to aging between the ages of 50 to 65 (t=2.37, p=.02), were involved in more social organizations between the ages of 50 and 70 (t=2.09, p=.04), and used alcohol less frequently as reported at age 53 (t=2.13, p=.04). The two groups did not differ in their commitment to volunteer or charity work, church attendance, or income in mid to late life.
Conclusions: Findings confirm the hypothesis that development of beyond-the-self purpose in early adulthood is associated with greater psychological and social well-being decades later. Sharper focus on the development of purpose can move the field beyond the current catalogue of general psychological factors associated with midlife and late life health toward an understanding of specific factors that explain these links and may be targets for effective intervention that promote healthy aging.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40621369