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July 21, 2010

The life priorities of younger and older Americans turn out to be strikingly similar, according to a new MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMI) study. The research, which compares attitudes toward having "meaning" or a sense of "purpose" in life for those age 25 to 74, revealed that while the extended recession has had a noticeable impact on people's lives, particularly in financial areas, its impact has been relatively modest in terms of meaning and purpose.

"Meaning Really Matters: The MetLife Study on How Purpose is Recession-Proof and Age-Proof" is a follow-up to 2009's "Discovering What Matters," which looked at the 45- to 74-year-old group only. A key finding was that "meaning," particularly the importance of family and friends, is a primary component of living the good life for all age groups. Both studies, based on the work of Richard Leider, leading life coach and best-selling author of The Power of Purpose and Repacking Your Bags, report that most adults want financial freedom, good physical and mental health, deep relationships, a sense of purpose and to feel that they belong, all synopsized as: money, medicine, meaning and place. The study is accompanied by a worksheet that helps people plan for "the good life" by having them answer a series of questions that will lead to an outline for vision and purpose in their lives. The tool, "Planning Tips: Meaning Really Matters," can be downloaded from the MMI website.

Across the board, regardless of age, family and friends are most important above all else, said Sandra Timmermann, EdD, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "Further, people with purpose in their lives, tend to be living 'the good life.' Even though many have suffered financial setbacks in the past couple of years, their priorities remain unchanged. Purpose is age-proof and recession-proof. According to the MMI, for many, the financial challenges were also constructive and encouraged them to introduce new approaches for financial security. Many people reported shifting activities to those that cost them less, while boosting savings and reducing their investment risk. The study reports being able to weather significant changes and transitions caused by trigger events, positive or negative, helps people achieve the good life.

"Achieving the good life requires vigilant juggling of time and energy in all four synopsized areas so none are sacrificed," said Richard Leider. "People must also be prepared for change, which has the propensity to derail those who are not able to roll with the punches. Being able to 'unpack,' to sort out what's truly important, to extricate oneself from 'limbo,' being stuck and not being able to reprioritize and to 'repack,' to get back on the road, is the key to dealing with the events that get in our way." Other study findings include:

• Maturity "rocks." Older people spend more time on meaning-laden activities, while those in the younger group focus on generating, managing and accumulating money. Conversely, younger people experience more change and are challenged to adapt.

• Everyone has some lack of vision of their future and how they can get there at some point, but those with lower "focus" and "vision" exhibit less tendency to take positive action.

• Having an imbalance of focus and vision impedes progress, so one's response to re-establish this balance is critical. Those who can "unpack" old, non-productive habits and "repack" with new responses do well.

• While most people experience some negative triggers, those with multiple recent triggers face the most difficult challenges. ?

• Longevity has certainly been increasing over the past decades. Extra decades of living can mean a second or even third career or time to volunteer, learn new skills, travel and forge long-term relationships.

"If people are dissatisfied with their lives—if they feel a lack of meaning ,they can do something about it," said Leider. "Discovering purpose is an ongoing quest and is likely to change a number of times as people grow older and their experiences change. Whatever their age, stage, work status or financial circumstance, they can explore their purpose, find other solutions and land on a new path."