Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Meaning in life

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Meaning in life:
What contributes to a sense of meaning in life and what are the consequences?

Overview[edit | edit source]

What is the meaning in life? This is an age-old question, which has been widely researched and

Socrates (470-399BCE), was one of the first philosophers to begin to question an individuals unique drive and search for meaning in their own lives.

Meaning, can derive from ones[grammar?] sense of importance, purpose, direction, goals, value, cohesion, and coherence in their own life experiences.

This chapter aims to answer how meaning in life is individually crafted, conceptualised, and experienced.

Focus questions:

  • How can meaning in life be defined?
  • What contributors are there?
  • What are the consequences?
  • Is meaning in life universal?

What is meaning in life?[edit | edit source]

The search for meaning in life has been suggested as an innate drive, that all humans possess (Harlow, 1993, as cited in Steger, 2012).

Meaning has been considered crucial to the ability to thrive and grow, and is associated with authentic, cohesive and happy living. It is suggested that meaning can help nurture conditions to foster happiness (Steger, 2012), decrease psychological distress, and maximise ones[grammar?] potential, thus increasing an individuals overall life satisfaction.

Other studies (Dezutter, et al., 2013; Newman, Nezlek & Thrash, 2018; Russo-Netzer, Sinai & Zeevi, 2020) suggest that individuals who encompass[awkward expression?] a sense of meaning, may have increased levels of enjoyment at their place of employment, happiness and satisfaction within.

Case study[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Bob, a business man, who travels for work

Example of a case study - Bob the business Man

Bob is a father of two, he is happily married to his wife of 15 years. He describes his relationship with his wife as strong and loving, despite past struggles they have had. Bob and his wife have recently just finished paying off their mortgage, relieving the couple from financial strain. He describes himself as a family man, believing that family comes first before anything. He values spending nights and weekends with his family when he is not travelling for work, and visiting his elderly parents twice a week. He also prides himself in his work, as he feels he has worked very hard to get where he is, and to provide for his family.

Bob is a businessman, and is constantly travelling for work, which was previously due to the mortgage bills. However, Bob still travels for work, decreasing the amount of time he is home. Bob values spending weekends with his family when he is not travelling for work, and visiting his elderly parents twice a week. Bob's job is stable and has recently given him a promotion. Bob is excited about his new promotion, however, his wife is concerned about the extra time his job will consume.

Additional subtitle -> what could it be?[edit | edit source]

Multiple definitions[edit | edit source]

Meaning in life has many inter-related definitions, however they still have some distinctions from one another.

Definitions of meaning in life can span from sense of purposefulness and coherence (Park & George, 2013), the attainment of meaningfulness by completing personal goals or life narrative (Kenyon, 2000, as cited in Steger & Fraizer, 2006) however, the most applicable to this chapter is an individuals[grammar?] capability to act according to their own morals, values and beliefs, whilst maintaining direction for individual goals and the future (Steger & Fraizer, 2006).

The meaning in life has three main concepts that can be agreed upon by most theorists, including purpose, cohesion and coherence, and importance.

Purpose and direction[edit | edit source]

Purpose refers to an individuals[grammar?] perceived direction within their own life, including current and future goals. An individual may have more than one purpose in their life.

Coherence and cohesion[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Yin-Yang. Represents cohesion, or 'oneness'.

Coherence and cohesion in an individuals life, can assist to make sense of personal experience and promote a sense of meaning.

Coherence can help an individual make sense of their experiences in the world (Steger, 2012), and is considered the cognitive component of meaning (Martela & Steger, 2016). Cohesion typically refers to a feeling of unity or "oneness", which can be explained as an individuals[grammar?] sense of belonging (Book chapter, 2014).

Sense of importance[edit | edit source]

The Ancient Greeks often philosophised about the idea of eudaimonia, which seeks happiness, personal growth, success and responsibility for the present and future (Steger, 2012). This concept is closely related to an individuals[grammar?] sense of importance, that focuses on personal values, self worth, expectations and standards (Martela & Steger, 2016).

- what makes a person feel important/worthy?

What contributes to meaning in life?[edit | edit source]

Contributors to meaning in life, vary from one individual to another,

Social contributors[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Example of a social contributor. Individuals rally together to protest, displaying their sense of belonging, inter-personal relationships and support within the group to help voice their opinions

Social aspects that contribute to a sense of meaning in life can include religious and cultural views and support, the number and significance of inter-personal relationships, and perceived sense of belonging (Martela & Steger, 2016) connections and support.


The self[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Meaning in ones[grammar?] life is interpreted, and uniquely created by every individual, by their own personal values, morals and beliefs. Psychologists who take a counselling stance, actively use techniques such as outlining personal goals, morals and values, to raise self-awareness, self-esteem and outlook on life.

Self Actualisation[edit | edit source]

Some individuals even look to reach self-actualisation, which can be defined as an individuals 'highest level of psychological development, where personal potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled' (Maslow, 1943, as cited in, Book chapter, 2020).


Religion and cultural contributors[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Church. Religion may contribute to an individuals perception of meaning in life.

Meaning is individually experienced and perceived, so therefore it cannot be universal. These religious and cultural factors can act as contributors (Pan et al., 2010) to a sense of meaning in life, if it is what an individual values and believes.


What are consequences of searching for meaning in life?[edit | edit source]

Some psychologists (add here) and researchers (Battista & Almond, 1973; Beaumeister[spelling?], 1991, as cited in Steger & Fraizer, 2006) suggest that search for meaning in life often occurs subsequent a negative, unexpected or traumatic event in ones[grammar?] personal life (Newman, Nezlek & Thrash, 2018).

- how to search for meaning in life

- what are the positive vs. negative consequences

- consequences of lack of meaning

  • suicide ideation, anxiety, depression, suicidal attempt, increased need for therapy and other intervention (Harlow, 1986; Debates, 1993, as cited in Steger & Fraizer, 2006)


Case study[edit | edit source]

Using the same study mentioned above, we will explore the consequences, both negative and positive of meaning in life.

Example of a case study - Bob the business Man

add scenario about Bob - e.g. his new promotion isn't what he hoped, spending less time at home, less time seeing family - unmet values, leading to psychological & emotional distress.

Pop quiz[edit | edit source]

Here is a quick quiz to test your knowledge on the material learned so far!

1 Contributors to ones meaning in life are universal


2 Meaning in life is individually crafted, to suit an individuals beliefs, values and perceived meaning and purpose in life


3 Ones sense of meaning is only a cognitive process


4 Counselling psychologists use techniques such as; outlining goals and values, self-discovery, and changing outlook on life, to assist individuals to find their own meaning in life


5 A protest is a way that individuals can utilise social factors to add meaning to their lives


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

- what are the definitions of meaning in life

- purpose and direction, coherence and cohesion, and importance

- what are the different contributors to sense of meaning in life

- outline social , self, religious and cultural

- what are the consequences of searching for meaning in life

- positive and negative

- psychological, cognitive and emotional

- how to search for meaning in life and improve sense of meaning

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Dezutter, J., Casalin, S., Wachholtz, A., Luyckx, K., Hekking, J., & Vandewiele, W. (2013). Meaning in life: An important factor for the psychogical well-being of chronically ill patients? Rehabilitation Psychology, 58(4), 334-341.

Martela, F., & Steger, M. F. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose and significance. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(5), 531-545.

Newman, D. B., Nezlek, J. B., & Thrash, T. M. (2018). The dynamics of searching for meaning and presence of meaning in daily life. Journal of Personality 86, 369-379.

Pan, J.-Y., Wong, D. F. K., Joubert, L., & Chan, C. L. W. (2010). The protective function of meaning of life on life satisfaction among chinese students in Australia and Hong Kong: A cross-cultural comparitive study. Journal of American College Health, 57(2), 221-232.

Park, C. L., & George, L. S. (2013). Assessing meaning and meaning making in the context of stressful life events: Measurement tools and approaches. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 483-504.

Russo-Netzer, P., Sinai, M., & Zeevi, M. (2020). Meaning in life and work among counsellors: A qualitative exploration. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 48(2), 209-226.

Steger, M., & Frazier, P. (2006). The Meaning in Life Questionaire: Assessing the Prescence[spelling?] of and Search of Meaning in Life. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 53(1), 80-93.

Steger, M. F. (2012). Making Meaning in Life. An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 23(4), 381-385.

External links[edit | edit source]