How America Stacks Up To Other Countries In Pew’s Meaning of Life Research

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If you were asked what gives meaning to your life, what would you say?

I guess you are pointing the finger at your family, as this was the most popular response in 14 of the 17 countries recently surveyed by Pew Research Center.

I feel safe assuming faith did not immediately spring to your mind, especially if you are from outside the United States. Responses related to religion or spirituality only beat pets when Pew ranked popular sources for commonly cited meaning.

“Outside of the United States, religion is never one of the top 10 sources of meaning cited – and no more than 5% of the non-American public mentions it,” the researchers wrote.

In the United States, however, faith is in the top five. Fifteen percent of American respondents cited God or religion as the source of meaning, putting faith behind only family, friends, material well-being, and work on the country ranking.

The faith is even more popular among American Republicans. This is the second most common response for members of this group. (Family and children arrived first.)

“About 1 in 5 Republican and Republican-leaning independents (22%) say that spirituality, faith or religion give them meaning in life, compared to only 8% of Democrats and those who lean for the party”, Pew reported.

All of this interesting new data reminds me of a story I worked on in 2018 after Pew released a similar report. Then as now, researchers have found that few people regard faith as an important source of meaning, despite the fact that it is common, at least in the United States, to believe in God and to believe in God. ‘identify as religious.

One of the researchers I spoke to for this article came up with a theory to explain this result which I still find convincing. Basically, he said people rarely think about religion when asked to name sources of meaning because it exerts a much more subtle influence on our daily lives than our loved ones, our jobs or even our pets. .

In other words, faith usually boils beneath the surface of people’s lives while other sources of meaning, such as children or coworkers, are more visible due to their constant demands.

“If you ask people what gives their life meaning, most people don’t say religion except the most devout people. This is because if you are a devout religious person, you pray every day and study the Bible. Religion is at the forefront of your mind, ”Clay Routledge, professor at North Dakota State University, told me in 2018.

Faith is also unique in that it helps us draw closer to other potential sources of meaning, such as our neighbors or service projects.

“I think religion helps people relate to each other, and then those relationships are the most meaningful to them,” Routledge said.

Fresh from the press

End of the week: Hanukkah

No, it’s not a typo. A hanukkiah is something different from Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that began on Sunday night. However, it is an essential part of the festivities.

A hanukkiah is a candelabra with room for nine candles (one for each of the eight nights of Chanukah, then the “assistant” candle that is used to light them.) It is commonly referred to as a menorah, or Hanukkah menorah, although technically refers to the seven-branched candelabra used in Jewish temples.

To learn more about Chanukah and other Hanukkah traditions, check out my colleague Mya Jaradat’s excellent explainer on the holidays.

What I’m reading …

In addition to the Sense Sources study, the Pew Research Center this month published a report on Pain. Specifically, the researchers explored Americans’ views on why bad things happen in the world. People are more likely to blame others than they are on God, Pew found.

Unlike the Brigham Young University football team, the Stanford team is not dominated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the handful of Latter-day Saints who play it an important mark on the team. The Associated Press recently explored how the mission experiences of these players inform their relationships with their teammates and help unify the entire organization.

In the fall of 1977, Maria Rubio saw the face of Jesus on a tortilla she had just done. That moment changed her family’s life forever, according to Slate.


In August, I was a panelist for a Georgetown University event on the tension between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. A video of the discussion is now available online.

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