What the Heck Is Going On?

Did you see the following?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal Survey conducted with NORC, an independent, non-partisan research affiliate of the University of Chicago, higher purpose in the United States is in steep decline:

According to the survey: “tolerance for others, deemed very important by 80% of Americans as recently as four years ago, has fallen to 58%…The only priority the Journal tested that has grown in importance in the past quarter-century is money, cited as very important by 43% in the new survey, up from 31% in 1998.”

What’s going on?

I’m not a social scientist, but from simple observation, the answer to me is clear. Happy people have an external focus. Their energies are directed outwardly. Unhappy individuals are the opposite. Their focus is on Self. The WSJ survey demonstrates something we already knew, the country isn’t happy, and when people aren’t happy, guess where their focus is? 

In a guest post for The Free Press, Katheryn Boyle hit the nail on the head, “Purpose is on the decline.” The final paragraph in Boyle’s post is worth quoting at length:

“For too long, we’ve been told we can be anything, do anything, and that all criticisms of that anything are an attack on our identity and very being. That self-love and self-care are all we need to thrive. And yet, we’ve never seemed more miserable, never been more lost, and never less confident in what we stand for.”

Boyle closes the post with a simple prescription: “Find a purpose outside yourself.” 

I was lucky to have a father who was big on values education for his kids. He would often pull us into his study after dinner to dispense pearls of wisdom. It didn’t matter that we were grade-schoolers about to miss The Monkey’s weekly TV show. 

The funny thing is, those sessions in Dad’s study were some of the most important lessons of my life. His lectures continued well into my adulthood. One evening, on a visit home from Minneapolis, he dispensed a pearl, that is apropos to the WSJ’s survey findings. I had recently been promoted to manager at work. Dad invited me to join him in his study after dinner. I smiled, wondering what I might hear:

“Tim,” Dad began, “The most important decision you will make as a new manager is hiring people. You will no doubt see impressive resumes. But, there is one criterion you should consider above all others before making your final decision.”

Ok, I thought, here comes the pearl!

“Tim,” Dad continued, “Always hire people who are involved in causes greater than themselves.”

He was right! In fact, I think it’s a pretty good criterion for friendships as well! 

No matter what difficulties people are facing, the ones you want to be around are those whose energies are focused outward rather than turned inward. These are the happy, inspirational, fun people to be around. 

Martin Gurri, former CIA analyst and author of the book Revolt of the Public, claims, “What matters most is a society’s orientation to the future… our attitudes about the future are rapidly shifting from confidence to dread.”  He continues, “…our vison stops at the smartphone…The average American spends more than seven hours a day online. Increasingly, that time is spent in solitude: actualizing has lost any social connection and is now a matter of admiring our digital selves.” 

I’m unsure what will turn around the disturbing trends reported above by the WSJ. Dad is no longer with us, but I’m pretty sure I know what he would say.  


If you enjoy my posts, please share them with a friend. Previous posts can be found here by subject category, and here chronologically. You can subscribe to my latest posts by filling in your email address at the bottom of this page.  

Towards A Life Well-Lived, is now a book. To purchase a copy, please click this link. Proceeds donated to support individuals suffering with anxiety and/or depression.

2 Replies to “What the Heck Is Going On?”

  1. Tim—– Very timely thoughts and observations——I agree with you and your Dad !!!!

    By the way— I have ordered a couple of your books and can hardly wait to get them !!!!

    I am so proud of you and your Teachings—–Thanks for being a special friend and a Mentor….



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