Actually this shocked me quite a bit. I know that some people think about such things but it was surprising for me to learn that the number that do was so high. So I did some research and dug up the article that revealed these results:
58 percent of Americans say that they often think about the meaning and purpose of life, compared with 25 percent of the British, 26 percent of the Japanese, and 31 percent of the West Germans. These findings come from the World Values Surveys, conducted in 80 nations between 1981 and 2001, which collected data from nearly 250,000 respondents around the world.
Ronald F. Inglehart, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) and director of the ISR World Values Surveys, and Pippa Norris, a political scientist at Harvard, put American spirituality into a global context in their forthcoming book, Sacred and Secular (Cambridge University Press).
If you're not part of the 58% don't fret. Most of the world doesn't spend much time on this topic either (as noted in the survey results). I don't mean to imply that those that think about the meaning of life are part of an elite class of power thinkers. In fact, by "meaning" I am including both the "meaning of life" as well as personal meaning in terms of "my contribution."
By "my contribution" I'm not talking about how I'll save X (e.g. humanity, the world, the whales, etc.) but rather what I contribute while I'm alive. For the most part this is largely what I'm interested in from a career point of view. Much of our lives is spent working and thus much of what we derive meaning from comes from the contribution we make.
In this it will be easy for others to poke at my contribution. "You're not saving the world" is akin to "that isn't rocket science." But it is what inspires me and that is how I make a difference.
Or at least how I spend my time on the planet while I'm trying to figure out why I'm here.