New Philosopher

Looking for meaning in life

Awards and Honours

1988 Fellow, British Psychological Society

2001 Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS)

2003 Member, Academia Europaea (MAE)

2007 Elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci)

2010 Fellow, Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research

2011 Contributions in Positive Health Award, International Positive Psychology Association

2014 Fellow, Gerontological Society of America

2017 Patricia Barchas Award for Sociophysiology, American Psychosomatic Society

2018/19 Highly Cited Researcher, Web of Science

Zan Boag: Purpose is a topic you’ve looked at in your work, and not just in your work in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. In that study, you and your colleagues analysed the results of responses from just over 7,000 respondents and they answered a range of questions about their social, economic, health, and physical activity characteristics. You ask questions like, “To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” What was the original aim of the survey and what prompted you to begin the research?

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing is a study that has been going on now for nearly 20 years. And it’s designed as a portfolio project to look in a multidisciplinary way of what happens to people as they age, go through retirement, and move into older age. It’s a complicated study in as much as it involves things to do with health, things to do with social activity, and also quite a big component to do with economics and prosperity and those sorts of aspects as well. So we do try to look quite broadly at the experience of ageing. The question about doing things in life that are worthwhile is actually an item which was developed originally by our Office for National Statistics. About 10 years ago, the then prime minister, David Cameron, wanted to get a better idea about wellbeing in the population, and one of the questions was this one, along with questions about happiness and anxiety. And these items have been put into UK surveys quite a lot over subsequent years. But we thought it’d be interesting to look at that in relation to the

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