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Benevolent Purposive Activities and Well-Being in College Students: Three Investigations

Important Question Explored:  What research supports the claim that the value of purposive and benevolent actions positively influence students’ quality of life?

Blaine-Fowers-150x150.jpgBlaine Fowers is a psychologist who specializes in the theoretical and empirical study of Aristotle. He has been teaching 23 years. Topics in character education and applied ethics are consistent foci of all his courses, regardless of their specific content. He inaugurated an undergraduate course at the University of Miami entitled “Community and Character Development.”  Since the inception of the course, class enrollment has been virtually at capacity.  He presents topics in this course related to character, purpose, and well-being in compelling ways to help invigorate the latent idealistic and benevolent interests of his students.


Laura-Cohen-1-150x150.jpgLaura Cohen is a first year student and Barbara Marks Scholar in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Miami. She earned a B.A. in Psychology at Florida Atlantic University in 2007. After graduating, she spent three years working in Clinical Psychology research at the University of Miami. Her early research focused on positive psychology, health related quality of life in individuals with chronic illnesses and psychosocial developmental outcomes in young deaf children with cochlear implants. Laura’s primary research interests include goal pursuit, well-being, cross-cultural psychology, health psychology and measure development.


We will present three studies of benevolent purposive activities and well-being informed by neo-Aristotelian theory. Aristotle distinguished between purposive and goal-directed activity and argued that eudaimonia (human flourishing) required purposive activity, whereas hedonia (happiness and satisfaction) is attainable through goal-directed activity. Two structural equation models confirmed the distinctiveness of eudaimonia and hedonia and independent pathways to the two forms of well-being. A confirmatory factor analytic study further solidified these findings and shed new light on the benevolent dimension of purposive activity.

Session Experience: The second session will present a data-informed view of purpose, meaning, and well-being among college students (summarizing the essential results of three studies). These studies are unique in their way of directly and examining Aristotle’s theory of eudaimonia or flourishing. The findings  of the studies provide evidence that purposive and benevolent actions predict flourishing (meaning and purpose), whereas actions that are focused solely on results predict positive emotional states (happiness and satisfaction). Although both flourishing is often accompanied by positive affect and satisfaction, the latter experiences tend to be more fleeting and whereas meaningful activity tends to be more durable and may not always be pleasant. These results can increase our confidence in the value of purposive and benevolent actions in students’ lives because they make a strong empirical case for students’ quality of life. The results document theoretical concepts and give them meaningful referents in actual students’ lives. The second half of the talk will be devoted to two extended examples of how these concepts can be taught in the classroom and through service learning.

Extending the Experience: After the session, participants will . . . . . . have several concrete approaches to teaching and encouraging benevolent purpose on their college campus.