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Daily Adolescent Purposefulness, Daily Subjective Well-Being, and Individual Differences in Autistic Traits

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Despite being a valued resource for adolescent health and development, the field maintains an incomplete view of how youths’ sense of purpose in life corresponds with their subjective well-being (SWB; i.e., greater life satisfaction and positive affect, lower negative affect). These blind spots are especially noticeable at the daily level, and the field further fails to consider how daily associations between purpose and SWB might vary across important individual differences. This study addresses these gaps in the literature using a daily diary approach to track adolescents (N = 204; Mage = 16.42 years; 70.1% female) across approximately 70 days of enrollment in GripTape, a U.S.-based out-of-school time program that supports engagement with personally meaningful activities. We found that on days teens felt more purposeful than usual, they tended to report greater SWB. Moreover, we failed to find evidence that subclinical autistic traits, an individual difference that corresponded with lower daily SWB ratings, moderated the observed daily benefits of feeling more purposeful than usual. With one of the longest consecutive studies of youth well-being to date, our work shows that day-to-day fluctuations in purpose are a useful addition to the adolescent SWB landscape. Following this necessary observational groundwork, future research may invest in creating and testing purpose opportunities for a more inclusive range of youth.

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This project has been made possible in part by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF (No. 136823), an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Any findings, opinions, or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agency. We thank the GripTape organization ( and all our youth participants for their generosity as partners in the research process. KR, QL, GZ, and ALB declare they have no financial interests related to the publication of this research. ME is a paid employee, the Research Manager, of the GripTape program.

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Correspondence to Kaylin Ratner.

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Ratner, K., Li, Q., Zhu, G. et al. Daily Adolescent Purposefulness, Daily Subjective Well-Being, and Individual Differences in Autistic Traits. J Happiness Stud 24, 967–989 (2023).

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