The Psychological Well-Being of “Seeking” and “Achieving” Purpose in Adulthood
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The Psychological Well-Being of “Seeking” and “Achieving” Purpose in Adulthood Patrick L. Hill, Jessica Collado, Anthony Burrow, Jay Brandenberger, & Daniel K. Lapsley University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN. Abstract

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The Psychological Well-Being of “Seeking” and “Achieving” Purpose in Adulthood

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The Psychological Well-Being of “Seeking” and “Achieving” Purpose in Adulthood

Patrick L. Hill, Jessica Collado, Anthony Burrow, Jay Brandenberger, & Daniel K. Lapsley

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN


Seeking one’s purpose is a paramount developmental concern for most individuals, and failure to achieve purpose may be linked to negative psychological well-being. The current research compared individuals who had identified their purpose with those still searching for one, on whether they could be classified as following different patterns of adult development. Our research indicates that purpose seekers did also follow a “seeker” pattern of development, and that those adults who had identified their purpose followed an “achiever” pattern of development. We suggest the possibility of alternative pathways in constructing purposive lives in adulthood.

Predictions for the Current Study

H1: Following the “Seeker” profile, greater searching for purpose should be positively related to personal growth, but negatively related to environmental mastery

H2: Following the “Achiever” profile, greater identification of one’s purpose should be positively related to both personal growth and environmental mastery.


Our results seem to suggest that adults who follow a seeker or achiever path during development may be similar to those who are seeking or achieving purpose in their lives. Purpose seekers and purpose achievers followed similar profiles with respect to personal growth and environmental mastery as did the seekers and achievers in Helson and Srinistava’s (2001) study. This also lends support for using the COA Youth Purpose scales for understanding developmental trajectories beyond adolescence.

Method and Reliabilities

Participants: 399 (57% M), Notre Dame graduates with an average age of 35 years

Procedure: Participants completed multiple scales online and were allowed to quit at any time. Participants who completed at least 2/3 of the survey were included in the final analyses.

Reliabilities of Interest: Searching (α = .94), Identified (α = .89), EM (α = .87), PG (α = .88)

Correlational Analyses


These results also provide larger implications for the study of adult development during mid-life and beyond. Following Ryff’s (1989) suggestion, achieving purpose seems to be integrally linked to psychological well-being during adult development. This study suggests the need to not only examine whether adults have identified their purpose but also whether they are actively seeking one. Helson and Srinistava (2001) suggest that the “seeking” profile is a positive and adaptive one, which led to greater ego development and wisdom in comparison to their other groups. When connecting this to the current work, it suggests that one’s search for purpose may be linked to one’s ego development, which serves as an intriguing hypothesis for future work.


Recently, Helson and Srivastava (2001) identified three positive pathways for adult development:

1. “Conservers” sought security and structure in their life, at the cost of having new experiences. They

2. “Seekers” saught new experiences, at the cost of less security and structure.

3. “Achievers” were those able to conscientiously seek new experiences, which decreased their propensity for anxiety.

While Conservers were lower in personal growth, and Seekers were lower in environmental mastery, Achievers were able to achieve both due to having clear, ambitious objectives in life. Therefore, while all three pathways to adult development were viewed as positive, Achievers demonstrated the best balance between progress and stability as life goals.

Regression Analyses


Three possible limitations are of note. First, the population sampled were college alumni, which may restrict generalizability to the overall population of mid-life adults. Second, due to the extended length of the survey, several participants failed to complete all portions. Third, data was collected using an online survey which necessarily neglected those alumni without access to the internet.

Predicting Environmental Mastery,

Searching: B = .25** Identified: B = .45**R2 = .190

Predicting Personal Growth,

Searching: B = -.13* Identified: B = .48**R2 = .283

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