Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Sense of purpose can be understood as the extent to which one feels that they have personally meaningful goals and directions guiding them through life. Though the predictive value of this construct is well-established based on the robust research illustrating that it predicts a host of desirable cognitive, physical, and well-being benefits, the nature of sense of purpose is still under-researched. In particular, little is known regarding the extent to which this construct fluctuates within an individual and what is tied to those fluctuations. The current study addresses this gap by utilizing data from four separate studies (total N = 3,390) with lag variability to explore three primary questions. First, how much within-person variability do people exhibit in sense of purpose at the hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly level? Second, how does sense of purpose variability compare to positive and negative affect variability? Third, does dispositional sense of purpose predict short-term sense of purpose variability, and does age have a linear and/or quadratic association with sense of purpose variability? The current project finds that approximately 50-70% of the variability in sense of purpose scores occurs between-person, with the monthly reports exhibiting the least amount of within-person variability. Furthermore, the within-person variability of sense of purpose is often comparable to positive and negative affect depending on the time between measurement occasions. Finally, higher levels of dispositional sense of purpose do not appear to be strongly tied to how much variability an individual experiences in their purposefulness from one time period to next. However, depending on the amount of time between measurement occasions, higher age may be tied to experiences of variability. The discussion focuses on what these findings mean for the trait-like nature of sense of purpose, short-term sense of purpose measurement, lifespan development, and intervention efforts.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Patrick L. Hill

Committee Members

Tammy English

Included in

Psychology Commons