‘Existential agency’ is correlated with belief in capitalism and entrepreneurship.

This article was originally published in the Wall Street Journal

A growing body of behavioral-science research indicates that believing life has meaning helps individuals thrive. People who view their decisions as existentially weighty cope better with stress and tragedy. They also live longer and healthier lives. Disbelief in meaning is a major risk factor for depression, substance abuse and suicide. But the idea that our actions are consequential has effects beyond psychology. Our research has found that a sense of life’s meaningfulness is tightly tied to positive views of capitalism and entrepreneurship.

As part of a new institute at our university—the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth—we conducted a survey to investigate how the need for meaning relates to Americans’ beliefs about economic freedom and their entrepreneurial ambitions. We were interested in a specific motivational dimension of meaning, what we refer to as existential agency: the extent to which people believe they are capable of finding and maintaining meaning in life.