Where People Around the World Find Meaning in Life by Pew Research Center

In the spring of 2021 – as COVID-19 raged across many parts of the world – we asked nearly 19,000 adults in 17 publics where they find meaning in their lives and what keeps them going. While there are some similarities between the places surveyed – for example, family is a top source of meaning in most places – there are also numerous differences that highlight the uniqueness of each culture and public. We encourage you to discover these patterns using the interactive below, focusing either on a source of meaning or on one of the 17 publics surveyed. You can also explore a selection of the detailed, rich quotations provided by respondents around the world.

How we did this:

For this report, we conducted nationally representative Pew Research Center surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to May 26, 2021, in 16 advanced economies. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Responses are weighted to be representative of the adult population in each public. Respondents in these publics were asked the following open-ended question: “We’re interested in exploring what it means to live a satisfying life. What aspects of your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying?” Responses were transcribed by interviewers in the language in which the interviews were conducted.

In the United States, we surveyed 2,596 adults from Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everyone who took part in the U.S. survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. In the U.S., respondents were asked a slightly longer version of the same question: “We’re interested in exploring what it means to live a satisfying life. Please take a moment to reflect on your life and what makes it feel worthwhile – then answer the question below as thoughtfully as you can. What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?”

Researchers examined random samples of English responses, machine-translated non-English responses and responses translated by a professional translation firm to inductively develop a codebook for the main sources of meaning mentioned across the 17 publics. The codebook was iteratively improved via practice coding and calculations of intercoder reliability until a final selection of 20 codes was formally adopted (see Appendix C).

To apply the codebook to the full collection of 18,850 responses, a team of Pew Research Center coders and professional translators were trained to code English and non-English responses, respectively. Coders in both groups coded random samples and were evaluated for consistency and accuracy. They were asked to independently code responses only after reaching an acceptable threshold for intercoder reliability. (For more on this, see Appendix A.)

Here is the question used for the report, along with the coded responses for each public. Open-ended responses have been lightly edited for clarity (and, in some cases, translated into English by a professional firm). More details about our international survey methodology and country-specific sample designs are available here. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology here.