How Many Teens See Purpose for Life?

by George H. Gallup Jr.
Chairman, The George H. Gallup International Institute

"Live life with a purpose" is a piece of advice constantly given to teenagers, and a question asked on the most recent Gallup Youth Survey* sought to determine the extent to which teens are actually doing so. Encouragingly, results show that 87% of teens think that their lives have an overall purpose.

Respondents who said they see an overall purpose for their lives were also asked what that purpose is. Responses varied widely, the most popular being "make a difference/help people" and "be a good Christian."

Helping Others

A powerful impulse to serve other people and society as a whole pervades many of the comments of those interviewed.

A 16-year-old girl in New Jersey said: "My purpose in life is to help other people. I get the most amazing feeling when I can help someone less fortunate than me."

A 17-year-old girl in Kentucky answered along similar lines: "I think that my purpose in life is to help people. I've gone through hard times myself, and I can't even imagine the situations some kids are in -- much worse even than the life that I've had growing up. I think that as long as I have the ability, and want to help people, that's what I should do."

A 14-year-old boy in Wisconsin said: "So far in my life, I've been the one some people come to with their problems. Probably because I don't complain or make fun of them if it's a serious problem. From what I hear, I guess I give good advice and am pretty understanding."

A 17-year-old female Utah resident commented: "Everyone is here to fill in the holes in other people's lives, whether little or big holes. Not everybody is the same, and we all need to share our talents and strengths to uplift other people."

In Religious Terms

Many teens also see their lives in a religious or Christian context. One 15-year-old girl from California explained: "I am here to mourn with those that mourn, help those in need, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness to God at all times and in all things and in all places. I am here to stand for faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity."

A 16-year old girl in Louisiana replied simply: "The purpose of my life is none other than to live my life for God, and to be an example to other people of what being a Christian is all about."

This from a 14-year-old Florida boy: "I am not sure but I do believe that God put me here for a purpose."

"Live Life to the Fullest"

Some surveyed see their key purpose as embracing life enthusiastically. One 17-year-old girl in California said: "The purpose of my life is simply to live and enjoy my life. I think it is important for you to not hold back and live life to the fullest. I've done everything from traveling internationally, gone to protests, and got accepted at a college at 16. Life is short; my purpose is to embrace it."

Another California youth, a 13-year-old boy, replied that life's purpose "is to have as much bloody fun as possible."

A 15-year-old girl in Florida had this to say: "I think there is a special quality in me that shows greatness, a high amount of potential for success … And this is demonstrated by the amount of people in my life that won't allow me to do anything but my best. Never allowing me to ‘just get by.'"

Some See No Overall Purpose

Twelve percent of teens feel that there is no overall purpose for their lives, which to some extent is understandable in view of their youth. Other teens are aware that finding a purpose in life can be difficult, and would like to help others find their way. Said one 15-year-old girl in Texas: "Everyone, no matter if they think so or not, has a purpose in this world, and although you may not know what it is at this point in life, later on down the road, it will become evident."

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 785 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 22 and March 9, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.


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