Purposefulness, a Key to Happiness in Selected Developing Nations

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 53
Oral Presentation
Ronald ANDERSON , Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Researchers have long puzzled over the high level of life satisfaction, happiness, and optimism found in most Latin America and several African countries. In these nations, indicators of happiness and well-being are high but economic, education, and health indicators low. Existential psychology claims that meaning and purpose are the central ingredients of personal happiness. Research has found that Latin American adolescents have a stronger sense of meaning than other ethnicities. Observers of Latin American culture claim that close family relationships are a key to understanding the Latin American character: their social values, interaction patterns, and culture. This presentation applies the Gallup World Poll data on responses to the question “Do you feel your life has an important meaning or purpose.” Latin Americans were more likely than any other sector of the globe to say “yes.” A very large share of the people, 89% across all countries surveyed, claimed to have a purposeful life. None-the-less, there is enough variation across countries and regions, that the patterns add to our understanding of the role of purposefulness in people’s lives. Using data from the Human Development Report (HDR 2010), this paper shows that Latin American purposefulness provides a partial explanation for their extreme happiness compared to other global regions. On the other hand, perceptions of social support do not account for happiness or national well-being. If Latin Americans are more likely as individuals to have a sense of meaningful purpose in life, this probably translates into contentment and happiness. Large differences in meaning and social life exist both between and within Latin American countries, which will be examined as well. A taxonomy of meaningful purpose will be offered to help clarify the relationship of purpose and happiness.