Purpose Endnotes

About these endnotes

This is where we provide references and in-depth information about everything in the Purpose Playbook.


We honor and thank the scientists whose research inspired this Playbook, especially William Damon and Heather Malin.

Commitment to making a meaningful contribution to the world.

The precise definition of the construct of purpose used for research in developmental science is: Purpose is a long-term goal that combines two essential elements: (1) meaningfulness to the self and (2) an intention to accomplish something of consequence to the world beyond the self. Accordingly, purpose is a subset of meaning; but it has the additional component of engagement in the world beyond the self. Such engagement is usually pro-social, but not always: although most purposes reflect desires to serve other people, other purposes are driven by discovery, aesthetic, and/or cosmic motives that are not mainly altruistic in intent (Damon, 2008; Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003).

What constitutes true happiness

From Helen Keller’s Journal, 1936-1937 (1938), in an entry dated December 10, 1936. Helen Keller overcame being deaf and blind to become an educator and activist. She also helped found the ACLU.

With a strong sense of purpose, you flourish: you enjoy a more meaningful life, are healthier and more resilient to setbacks, live more energetically, and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

A large body of research shows associations between purpose and positive outcomes for health, well-being, and achievement over the lifespan. See Ryff et al. (2016) for a review of research demonstrating some of the health benefits associated with purpose in life. See Burrow & Hill (2011) for a study and discussion of purpose as a source of well-being among adolescents. See Yeager et al. (2014) for a study that demonstrates the positive effect of purpose on student achievement.

Additional published studies on the relation between purpose and positive outcomes such as well-being, resilience, achievement, and flourishing can be found on the Stanford Center on Adolescence website at

Notice sparks of potential purpose in children’s interests and abiding concerns, and guide them to real-world opportunities to act on their interests and concerns.

Role models and mentors may be a significant source of support for adolescent purpose development, especially when they make purpose accessible to young people, for example through invitations and opportunities to get involved (Moran et al., 2013;  Malin, Ballard, & Damon, 2015; and Malin, Reilly, Quinn, & Moran). For a thorough discussion of the research and theory about how adults can support young people to develop purpose, and school-based programs designed to promote student purpose, see Malin (2018).

Certain types of parental relationships may support purpose development, such as positive parent-child relationships and strong parental attachment (Liang et al., 2017; Hill, Burrow, & Sumner, 2016).

A comprehensive source for published studies on purpose development and supports can be found on the Stanford Center on Adolescence website at:


Burrow, A. L., O’Dell, A. C., & Hill, P. L. (2009). Profiles of a developmental asset: Youth purpose as a context for hope and well-being. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(11), 1265-273.

Damon, W. (2008). The path to purpose: How young people find their calling in life. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Damon, W., Menon, J. L., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Journal of Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.

Hill, P., Burrow, A., & Sumner, R. (2016). Sense of purpose and parent–child relationships in emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 4(6), 436-439.

Liang, B., Lund, T., Mousseau, A., White, A. E., Spencer, R., & Walsh, J. (2017). Adolescent girls finding purpose: The role of parents and prosociality. Youth & Society.

Malin, H., (2018). Teaching for purpose: Preparing students for lives of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Malin, H., Ballard, P. J., & Damon, W. (2015). Civic purpose: An integrated construct for understanding civic development in adolescence. Human Development 58(2), 103-130.

Malin, H., Reilly, T. S., Quinn, B., & Moran, S. (2014). Adolescent purpose development: Exploring empathy, discovering roles, shifting priorities, and creating pathways. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24(1), 186–199.

Moran, S., Bundick, M., Malin, H., & Reilly, T. S. (2013). How supportive of their specific purposes do youth believe their family and friends are? Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(3), 348-377.

Ryff, C. D., Heller, A. S., Schaefer, S. M., Van Reekum, C. & Davidson., R. J. (2016). Purposeful engagement, healthy aging, and the brain. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports, 3(4), 318-27.

Yeager, D. S., Henderson, M. D., Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., D’Mello, S., Spitzer, B. J., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). Boring but important: A self-transcendent purpose for learning fosters academic self-regulation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(4), 559-80.