Some answers on the meaning of life

Americans put a high value on family and friends. Their religious faith also sets them apart from many other developed countries.

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Columnists

November 26, 2021 - 10:09 AM

Detroit Lions fans Mark Mullins, center, and daughter Mandie Mullins dress in their famous pilgrim costumes with friend Kyle Franklin, right, for the Lions's Thanksgiving game against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 28, 2019.

It’s Thanksgiving season, and whatever your manner of celebration, chances are that you’ll enjoy some time off from work. If, like most of us, you’re gathering with family and friends, you might even pause to consider what exactly gives meaning to your life.

And just in time for the long weekend, Pew Research Center is out with a survey of 19,000 people in 17 developed countries on exactly that question. Respondents were given 17 possible sources of meaning and asked to rank them. What’s remarkable is how consistent the answers are — but also how the U.S. is different.

Family dominated. In 14 of the 17 countries, family ranked first; in another it was tied for first. In the other two, family ranked third. Nearly everywhere, occupation or material well-being occupied the second spot. And although friends made the top five in 13 of the surveyed countries, the U.S. was one of two countries where friends ranked second. Families and friends: the people who sit around the Thanksgiving table.

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