More Americans find meaning in money than in religion or friends

Meaning in hand?
Meaning in hand?
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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What makes your life meaningful? The Pew Research Center has published a new study revealing what thousands of US adults said when they were asked exactly that.

Pew conducted two surveys at the end of 2017 to put together the report, which was published this week, just in time for Thanksgiving. The first survey asked 4,867 people open-ended questions—“What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going, and why?”—with no restrictions on how they could answer. The second asked 4,729 to choose from 15 different options to say which provide the most meaning and fulfillment. (Most respondents took both surveys and the results were examined separately.)

In both surveys, “family” and “spending time with family” reigned supreme across all demographics. In the open-ended survey, where respondents were asked to respond “thoughtfully” about what they found meaningful in life, a higher proportion mentioned money compared to those who mentioned religion, friends, or even good health.

In the second survey’s results, which recorded answers to a limited range of options, capitalism took a back seat: “Spending time with friends” and “your religious faith” were ranked as more important sources of meaning than “your job or career.” However, money or finances were not even listed as options (the full 15 choices can be found here). In the first survey, respondents had the freedom to mention all the things they found meaningful.

There appeared to be a correlation between money and friendship. In the open-ended survey, respondents with a higher household income were more likely to mention friendship as a source of meaning. The more educated were more likely to mention friendship, too.

And as wonderful as friends are, or important religion might be for some, there is good reason why money might be so meaningful in the US. One in 10 Americans have more than  $100,000 in debt, $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt weighs down many, and 55 million Americans have no emergency savings. More money is still the gateway to a higher quality of life, and fewer financial worries might mean more time to consider and enjoy meaningful friendships.