Developing a Sense of Purpose in High School

With a strong sense of purpose in life tend to come a range of cognitive, mental health, and possibly even physical health benefits, as I’ve written about before.

A more complex question is how a strong sense of purpose arises. Although it’s reasonable to expect that a sense of purpose would be something that develops gradually, a new study highlights the possibility that the teenage years can be a time when sense of purpose greatly increases.

The study, of 387 high school students in Taiwan, found that teenagers’ ability to identify a sense of purpose took an upward trajectory across their sophomore and junior years.

Those adolescents who found the strongest sense of purpose during these years enjoyed a range of other advantages. They tended to have higher levels of life satisfaction, and they had fewer symptoms of depression on average.

These findings are consistent with the idea that finding a strong sense of purpose can cascade into a variety of positive mental health effects.

In the words of the researchers, they found “an increase in the development of identified purpose during middle adolescence,” a change which apparently “not only promotes life satisfaction in adolescents but is also preventive of adolescent depression.”

So what factors can help teenagers build this sense of meaning? Obviously establishing a sense of purpose is necessarily a personal journey, but some psychology research has suggested that activities ranging from volunteering to daydreaming can be constructive for finding purpose in life.

It also seems like having the opportunity to explore different activities can’t hurt. For example, teenagers who participate in a greater number of certain activities like extracurricular classes, volunteering, and sports tend to be happier with their lives.

The big-picture takeaway of this study seems to be that adolescence is an important time for building a sense of purpose, and that this quest for meaning ultimately can bring a whole array of mental health benefits.