Americans find meaning in money more than friends or religion


Family at Thanksgiving dinner.

As Americans gather with their family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner, they’re being fed some grim home truths from the Pew Research Centre.

Asked to rate what gave their life meaning, researchers found more people mentioned career and money, than friends or religion.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said family was a source of satisfaction.

But close to a third also cited work, while 23% said their finances made their lives meaningful.

Researchers conducted the survey late last year, asking nearly 5,000 Americans an open-ended question about what parts of their lives gave them satisfaction and fulfilment. Answers included pets, hobbies, grandchildren and travel.

Where Americans find meaning in life

Family 69%

Career 34%

Money 23%

Faith and spirituality 20%

Friends 19%

Activities and hobbies 19%

Health 16%

The open-ended question about what made people feel fulfilled received a wide variety of responses.

“Building a scale model trebuchet out of discarded lumber. I can do it, I know I can,” said one.

“Family, God, friends, guns, work… in that order,” said another.

There were also touching anecdotes: “I guess what keeps me going is the surprising acts of kindness I see everyday in this city. A kid dropped and broke his toy on the train during rush hour and had a meltdown. Strangers grabbed the pieces and worked together to snap it back together.”

Another respondent was focused on earning: “With lots of money from the job I’m majoring in, I’ll be able to finally enjoy life and its full benefits, instead of standing on the sidelines while the rich take pleasure in a life they were born into.”

While others discussed things they couldn’t afford: “I miss the ability to work. I miss buying clothes I want, going to coffee shops and having money for a good dinner at a fine dining restaurant.”

A second parallel survey conducted by Pew provided 15 defined categories and asked respondents to rate the importance of those pre-set options.

In the second survey using the closed-ended question, family was again the most popular rated source of meaning. But it was followed by being outdoors, spending time with friends and caring for pets, which were deemed to give “a great deal of meaning” to more than 40% of those surveyed.

Religious faith ranked lower, providing a “great deal” of meaning to just 36% of people, on par with reading. In that survey only 34% of respondents ranked career as giving the highest level of meaning in their lives.