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60-Second Mind

Obama's Message to Graduates

President Obama's message to Arizona State University grads matches new research on how to live a fulfilled and happy life. Christie Nicholson reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

“...you're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car.

"We too often let the external, the material things, serve as indicators that we're doing well, even though something inside us tells us that we're not doing our best…”

That was President Obama’s advice to the graduating class of Arizona State University on May 13.

And a new study in the June issue of the Journal of Research in Personality backs it up.

Based on a survey of 147 alumni from two universities, achieving ones’ goals leads to a great deal of satisfaction. But there’s a caveat: it depends on the nature of those goals. The survey was administered twice, once a year after graduation and then 12 months later.

Their research confirmed that achieving material and image-related goals has zero impact on happiness, and can actually lead to guilt, anger and physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. But graduates who focused on, and achieved, a level of personal growth, close relationships, community involvement and physical health rated themselves as happier, with fewer physical problems. 

Such intrinsic goals are closely related to an autonomous self, noted the authors, while a constant comparison to anothers’ external image breeds feelings of inadequacy and envy.

This lines up with Obama’s plea to A.S.U. grads:

“…that in fact the elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short-term gain over lasting achievement is precisely what your generation needs to help end."       

"I'm talking about an approach to life -- a quality of mind and quality of heart; a willingness to follow your passions, regardless of whether they lead to fortune and fame;...a lack of regard for all the traditional markers of status and prestige -- and a commitment instead to doing what's meaningful to you, what helps others, what makes a difference in this world.”

Christie Nicholson

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