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. We especially thank Anne Colby for her contributions to this Playbook and each of the past and current members of the Stanford Center on Adolescence team, who have made essential contributions to the research on youth purpose. Any errors or omissions are ours.

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.