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Abstract

Counseling psychologists often work with clients to increase their well-being as well as to decrease their distress. One important aspect of well-being, highlighted particularly in humanistic theories of the counseling process, is perceived meaning in life. However, poor measurement has hampered research on meaning in life. In 3 studies, evidence is provided for the internal consistency, temporal stability, factor structure, and validity of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ), a new 10-item measure of the presence of, and the search for, meaning in life. A multitrait-multimethod matrix demonstrates the convergent and discriminant validity of the MLQ subscales across time and informants, in comparison with 2 other meaning scales. The MLQ offers several improvements over current meaning in life measures, including no item overlap with distress measures, a stable factor structure, better discriminant validity, a briefer format, and the ability to measure the search for meaning.
The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the Presence of and Search
for Meaning in Life
Michael F. Steger and Patricia Frazier
University of Minnesota—Twin Cities Campus
Shigehiro Oishi
University of Virginia
Matthew Kaler
University of Minnesota—Twin Cities Campus
Counseling psychologists often work with clients to increase their well-being as well as to decrease their
distress. One important aspect of well-being, highlighted particularly in humanistic theories of the
counseling process, is perceived meaning in life. However, poor measurement has hampered research on
meaning in life. In 3 studies, evidence is provided for the internal consistency, temporal stability, factor
structure, and validity of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ), a new 10-item measure of the
presence of, and the search for, meaning in life. A multitrait–multimethod matrix demonstrates the
convergent and discriminant validity of the MLQ subscales across time and informants, in comparison
with 2 other meaning scales. The MLQ offers several improvements over current meaning in life
measures, including no item overlap with distress measures, a stable factor structure, better discriminant
validity, a briefer format, and the ability to measure the search for meaning.
Keywords: meaning in life, purpose in life, measurement, scale construction, well-being
In recent years the construct of meaning in life has received
renewed attention and legitimacy, perhaps in conjunction with a
growing focus on positive traits and psychological strengths (Ryan
& Deci, 2001; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Invariably,
meaning in life is regarded as a positive variable—an indicator of
well-being (Ryff, 1989), a facilitator of adaptive coping (Park &
Folkman, 1997), or a marker of therapeutic growth (Crumbaugh &
Maholick, 1964; Frankl, 1965). A recent report in the Journal of
Counseling Psychology advocated for the understanding and as-
sessment of well-being variables such as meaning in life in order
to promote client growth and recovery (Lent, 2004). Despite
substantial progress over the 40-year history of empirical research
on meaning and the resurgence presently occurring, existing re-
search seems unable to answer many fundamental questions about
the construct. We argue that better measurement will help advance
this research by providing a measure of therapeutic outcome and
personal growth that counseling psychologists historically have
been interested in, particularly those influenced by the humanistic
tradition of promoting growth and not simply decreasing symp-
toms. The purpose of the present research was to develop an
improved measure of meaning in life.
Overview of Meaning in Life Literature
The definition of meaning in life varies throughout the field,
ranging from coherence in one’s life (Battista & Almond, 1973;
Reker & Wong, 1988) to goal directedness or purposefulness (e.g.,
Ryff & Singer, 1998) to “the ontological significance of life from
the point of view of the experiencing individual” (Crumbaugh &
Maholick, 1964, p. 201). Others offer semantic definitions (e.g.,
“What does my life mean?”; Baumeister, 1991; Yalom, 1980).
Likewise, there is diversity in perspectives regarding how to
achieve meaning in life. Because there is no universal meaning that
can fit everyone’s life (Frankl, 1965), each person must create
meaning in his or her own life (Battista & Almond, 1973), whether
through the pursuit of important goals (Klinger, 1977) or the
development of a coherent life narrative (Kenyon, 2000; Mc-
Adams, 1993). Baumeister (1991) proposed that a feeling of mean-
ing can be attained by first meeting needs for value, purpose,
efficacy, and self-worth. Others have indicated the importance of
everyday decision making and action (Maddi, 1970) or of self-
transcendence (e.g., Allport, 1961; Seligman, 2002) in the creation
of meaning.
Despite these differences in definitions of, and routes to, mean-
ing in life, theorists uniformly regard meaning as crucial. Mean-
ingful living has been directly equated with authentic living
(Kenyon, 2000), and in eudaimonic theories of well-being, which
focus on personal growth and psychological strengths beyond
Michael F. Steger, Patricia Frazier, and Matthew Kaler, Department of
Psychology, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities Campus; Shigehiro
Oishi, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia.
This research was supported by a Harrison Gough Graduate Research
Grant to Michael F. Steger from the University of Minnesota. Portions of
this article were presented at the 2nd International Positive Psychology
Summit, October 2003, Washington, DC, and at the Seventh European
Conference on Psychological Assessment, March 2004, Ma´laga, Spain.
We thank Brandon Sullivan and Andrew Tix for their collection of some
of the data used in these studies. We also thank Mark Snyder and Todd
Kashdan for their helpful comments on a draft of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michael
F. Steger, University of Minnesota, Department of Psychology, N218
Elliott Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail:
steg0043@umn.edu
Journal of Counseling Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
2006, Vol. 53, No. 1, 80–93 0022-0167/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-0167.53.1.80
80
pleasant affect, meaning is important, whether as a critical com-
ponent (Ryff & Singer, 1998) or as a result of maximizing one’s
potentials (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 2000; Maslow, 1971). Frankl (1963)
argued that humans are characterized by a “will to meaning,” an
innate drive to find meaning and significance in their lives, and
that failure to achieve meaning results in psychological distress.
Research has supported this proposed link between lack of mean-
ing and psychological distress. Having less meaning in life has
been associated with greater need for therapy (Battista & Almond,
1973), depression and anxiety (e.g., Debats, van der Lubbe, &
Wezeman, 1993), and suicidal ideation and substance abuse (e.g.,
Harlow, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1986), as well as other forms of
distress. Having more meaning has been positively related to work
enjoyment (Bonebright, Clay, & Ankenmann, 2000), life satisfac-
tion (e.g., Chamberlain & Zika, 1988b), and happiness (Debats et
al., 1993), among other measures of healthy psychological
functioning.
Counseling psychology has traditionally focused on positive func-
tioning and human strengths, although more energy has been focused
on “adapting deficit or pathology-oriented models to the treatment of
relatively well-functioning clients than to forging, testing, and apply-
ing models of psychological health” (Lent, 2004, p. 483). Lent further
argued that greater inquiry into well-being could lead to development
of models of mental health that address the needs of practicing
psychologists. Several counseling psychologists have commented on
the importance of meaning in life and meaning-related variables to the
healthy personality (Day & Rottinghaus, 2003), psychotherapy (Gelso
& Woodhouse, 2003), health psychology (e.g., Harris & Thoresen,
2003), and career counseling (Savickas, 2003). Meaning is one of a
set of growth-related variables that are thought to provide the condi-
tions from which happiness arises (Lent, 2004; Ryff & Singer, 1998).
Thus, meaning may contribute to the foundation of overall client
happiness. Some clients may also present with a desire to become
actualized and achieve a deeper sense of meaning and purpose (Lent,
2004). Further, the crises with which clients most often present offer
opportunities for growth, and greater meaning or purpose in life may
be one important outcome of therapy. In his monograph, Lent (2004)
surveyed many of these issues and also called for efforts to purify
measures of well-being constructs that overlap in item content. The
present studies describe exactly such an effort.
One shortcoming in the meaning in life literature concerns
measures of meaning. Most meaning research has used one of
three measures: the Purpose in Life Test (PIL; Crumbaugh &
Maholick, 1964), the Life Regard Index (LRI; Battista & Almond,
1973), or the Sense of Coherence Scale (Antonovsky, 1987),
which is actually a coping disposition measure (see Sammallahti,
Holi, Komulainen, & Aalberg, 1996). Somewhat less often used
are the Life Attitude Profile (Reker & Peacock, 1981) and the Life
Attitude Profile—Revised (Reker, 1992) and Ryff’s (1989) Pur-
pose in Life subscale. Many, if not all, of these scales appear to
have characteristics that muddle the nomological network (Cron-
bach & Meehl, 1955) of meaning, as outlined next.
Meaning in life scales have been criticized for being confounded
on an item level with many of the variables they correlate with in
their research applications (Dyck, 1987; Frazier, Oishi, & Steger,
2003; Garfield, 1973; Klinger, 1977; Yalom, 1980). For instance,
the PIL and the LRI contain items such as “With regard to suicide,
I have thought of it seriously as a way out” and “I feel really good
about my life.” These items could tap any number of constructs
aside from meaning, such as mood. According to Clark and
Watson (1995), items assessing nearly any negative mood term
will covary highly with neuroticism. Empirical findings support
this idea, with disconcertingly high correlations observed between
the PIL and negative affect (–.78; Zika & Chamberlain, 1987),
positive affect (.78; Zika & Chamberlain, 1992), and life satisfac-
tion (.71; Chamberlain & Zika, 1988b). Other meaning measures
also are highly correlated with measures of positive and negative
affect (e.g., Debats et al., 1993; Zika & Chamberlain, 1987). The
investigation of potential correlates, antecedents, and conse-
quences of meaning in life is hampered if items are included in
meaning measures that tap these related constructs.
Furthermore, the factor structures of meaning measures have
been somewhat problematic. Empirical testing has revealed struc-
tures different from those theorized for all of the measures of
meaning that have been examined (see, e.g., Chamberlain & Zika,
1988b; McGregor & Little, 1998). In addition, the factor structures
of often-used meaning measures such as the PIL and LRI have
varied from study to study (e.g., compare Chamberlain & Zika,
1988a, with Reker & Cousins, 1979, and McGregor & Little,
1998), possibly owing to the presence of multiple content domains.
Finally, given that Frankl’s (1963) work, particularly Man’s
Search for Meaning, has been given credit for the emergence of
meaning as an important variable (Wong & Fry, 1998), it is
surprising that the search for meaning in life has been all but
neglected. Maddi (1970) also argued that the search for meaning is
a fundamental human motivation. Crumbaugh (1977) designed the
Seeking of Noetic Goals Scale to assess the “will to meaning,” but
criticism of that measure has been severe (e.g., Dyck, 1987;
Moreland, 1985), and it has gone almost completely unused.
We sought to address these concerns by developing a new
measure of meaning in life. We defined meaning in life as the
sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one’s
being and existence. This definition represents an effort to encom-
pass all of the major definitions of meaning and allows respon-
dents to use their own criteria for meaning. Battista and Almond
(1973) argued for a “relativistic” theory of meaning in life, in
which no predetermined constraints are placed on how people may
define meaning in their lives. This theory was in some ways a
response to concerns that the PIL had incorporated a variety of
values in the measurement of meaning, such as excitement and
responsibility, that predicated having meaning on endorsing these
values. Our approach was also consistent with arguments that each
individual uniquely constructs his or her own life’s meaning (e.g.,
Frankl, 1966). A similar method has been used successfully in the
assessment of subjective well-being (see, e.g., Diener, Emmons,
Larsen, & Griffin, 1985; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999).
In Studies 1 and 2 we tested the item pool and assessed the
structural, convergent, and discriminant validity of the Meaning in
Life Questionnaire (MLQ). In Study 3 we used a multitrait–
multimethod matrix design to more rigorously assess the conver-
gent and discriminant validity of the MLQ. Study 3 also provides
a comparison of the MLQ with the two most used meaning
measures.
Study 1a
The purpose of Study 1 was to create and test an item pool for
the construction of a measure of meaning in life. Study 1a provided
81
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
the initial testing of items and factor structure. Study 1b refined the
items using confirmatory factor analyses (CFA). Efforts first were
made to fully sample the content domain of meaning in life
through a review of theories and existing measures of meaning in
life and the search for meaning. Items were written to oversample
content relevant to meaning in life (e.g., Clark & Watson, 1995;
Reise, Waller, & Comrey, 2000) and were evaluated with regard to
clarity (e.g., not asking two questions in an item; see, e.g., Dawis,
2000; Visser, Krosnick, & Lavrakas, 2000) and content specificity
(e.g., not referring to positive or negative affect; see, e.g., Clark &
Watson, 1995). Eighty-three items were initially generated. Two of
the authors and two trained research assistants evaluated these
items with regard to the above criteria, and 44 were retained. These
44 items were administered to a sample of undergraduate students
to obtain data for factor analyses and scale revision. In addition,
we examined the convergent validity of the new meaning scale by
assessing correlations with measures of life satisfaction, positive
affect, personality (extraversion and agreeableness), and intrinsic
religiosity, and we assessed discriminant validity via correlations
with measures of social desirability, extrinsic religiosity, and val-
ues. We further hypothesized negative correlations with neuroti-
cism and depression.
Method
Participants and Procedure
The participants in this study were 151 undergraduate introductory
psychology students. Their mean age was 19.8 years (SD 3.4). Partici-
pants were 64% female; most were Caucasian (76%), followed by Asian
(10%), African American (3%), Native American (3%), Asian American
(2%), and Hispanic (1%), with 5% of participants endorsing “other.”
Participants were administered the 44 items that met the above criteria and
completed additional self-report inventories, as reported below.
Measures
In addition to assessment of demographic variables, several measures
were distributed with the 44 MLQ items to a subset of the participants to
obtain evidence of convergent and discriminant validity for the MLQ as a
measure of the presence of meaning in life as scale construction proceeded
(see Clark & Watson, 1995). All of the measures used, except for the
values measure, were selected because of demonstrated validity and reli-
ability in previous studies. Results of convergent and discriminant validity
analyses are presented at the end of Study 1b.
The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS; Diener et al., 1985) is a widely
used and well-validated measure of life satisfaction. Satisfaction with life
represents the cognitive aspect of subjective well-being (Lucas, Diener, &
Suh, 1996). Respondents use a 7-point scale ranging from strongly dis-
agree to strongly agree to rate the scale’s five items. The SWLS has
demonstrated good reliability, as well as convergent and discriminant
validity (for a review, see Pavot & Diener, 1993). Internal consistency in
the present sample was good (
.84).
The Long-Term Affect Scale (LTAS; Diener, Smith, & Fujita, 1995)
was used to assess the affective component of subjective well-being. The
LTAS consists of 24 affective adjectives that make up two positive (Joy
[
.75], Love [
.82]) and four negative (Shame [
.82], Fear [
.81], Anger [
.83], and Sadness [
.86]) affect scales. Adjectives are
rated on 7-point scales, on which participants indicate how often they felt
each emotion in the past month, from always to never. Diener et al. have
established the internal consistency and convergent and discriminant va-
lidity of the LTAS.
Extraversion (
.76), conscientiousness (
.74), openness (
.81), agreeableness (
.87), and neuroticism (
.85) were measured
using eight items each from Saucier’s (1994) Mini-Markers. Saucier pre-
sented validity information in the form of principal-components analysis
that mapped onto the pervasive five-factor theory of personality.
Participants also completed the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI; Deroga-
tis & Spencer, 1992) Depression subscale. The BSI is a short version of the
Symptom Check List 90, which assesses self-reports of psychological
distress (
.84). Participants indicated the degree to which they expe-
rienced six depression symptoms (e.g., feeling blue) over the past month.
Responses were made on a 5-point scale (0 not at all to 4 extremely).
Derogatis has presented research supporting the reliability and validity of
the BSI as a measure of psychological distress.
The 14-item Intrinsic/Extrinsic Religiosity Scale (Gorsuch & McPher-
son, 1989) was used to assess the extent to which individuals engage in
religious commitments for the sake of faith itself (Intrinsic Religiosity,
.71) versus using religion as an instrumental means to other ends (Extrinsic
Religiosity,
.78). Eight items assess intrinsic religiosity on a scale
from 1 (strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree), and six items assess
extrinsic religiosity on the same scale. Consistent with other researchers
interested in avoiding the potential Christian bias in some items (e.g.,
Bouchard, McGue, Lykken, & Tellegen, 1999), the term “church” was
replaced with “religious services.” The Intrinsic/Extrinsic Religiosity Scale
has been recommended as the best available instrument for research in
religion (Van Wicklin, 1990).
Participants completed the 33-item Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirabil-
ity Scale (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960), a widely used inventory that assesses
the need to obtain social approval using a series of statements concerning
socially desirable opinions or behaviors that most people cannot truthfully
claim to adhere to at all times, as well as 14 statements of socially
undesirable opinions or behaviors that have been true for most people at
least some of the time (
.80). Those who respond true to many of the
socially desirable and false to many of the socially undesirable statements
have a high need for social approval that is presumed to affect their
responses to psychological measures.
Finally, values were measured by having participants rank in order of
importance descriptors of the 10 value types (security, power, achievement,
hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition,
and conformity) proposed by Schwartz and Sagiv (1995). Thus, analyses
were of the relation between scores on MLQ scales and the relative
importance of each value individually, rather than with a full scale score.
Schwartz’s values scale has received considerable attention, and its psy-
chometric properties have been supported in numerous studies. A pairwise
comparison form of these 10 values has been used successfully in the past
(i.e., Oishi, Diener, Suh, & Lucas, 1999).
Results and Discussion
The correlation matrix of the 44 items was first subjected to a
principal-axis factor analysis (PFA) with oblique, direct oblimin
rotation (deltas 0). PFA was chosen over principal-components
analysis because principal-components analysis introduces more
spurious common variance into solutions (Comrey, 1988), as-
sumes perfect measurement (Finch & West, 1997), and is more
appropriate for data reduction than latent variable identification
(Floyd & Widaman, 1995). PFA will generally produce results
similar to those of maximum likelihood extraction (which was the
case in these studies when duplicate analyses were performed) and
is less sensitive to nonnormality (Finch & West, 1997).
Scree-plot analysis indicated that as many as six factors could be
present in the data, with eigenvalues of 11.63, 8.07, 2.03, 1.82,
1.54, and 1.27, but strongly suggested the existence of two dom-
inant factors. The overall aim of scale development is to create
82 STEGER, FRAZIER, OISHI, AND KALER
indices of theoretically interesting and interpretable constructs.
Therefore, we examined the rotated pattern matrix of the initial
item pool with an eye for whether the factors focused on important
meaning in life-related constructs or whether they appeared to
focus on extraneous content. The first factor clearly tapped the
presence of meaning or purpose in a person’s life. The second
factor captured the search for meaning. These two factors were of
substantial theoretical interest given previous research on the pres-
ence of meaning in people’s lives and the emphasis on the search
for meaning (e.g., Frankl, 1963; Maddi, 1970). Factors 3, 4, and 5
appeared either to be redundant with the presence of meaning
factor, center around skepticism regarding the existence of an
“ultimate meaning of life,” or assess goal directedness. The sixth
factor consisted of one item that loaded more highly on the
redundant meaning in life factor.
Next, the two principal factors described above (labeled Pres-
ence and Search) were extracted from the 44 items and obliquely
rotated. To create independence between the scales, we used a
criterion of factor loadings above .60 on the intended factor and
below .20 on the other factor for item retention (see Watson, Clark,
& Tellegen, 1988). Seventeen items met this criterion (9 on the
Presence subscale, 8 on the Search subscale). These items were
tested and further refined using CFA in Study 1b.
Study 1b
We used CFA to further refine the item pool for assessing the
Presence and Search factors. The modification indices and empir-
ical tests of model fit available in CFA provide excellent informa-
tion for refining and revising scales (Floyd & Widaman, 1995).
However, as modification indices from the CFAs were used to
revise the scales, replication in independent samples is especially
important (Floyd & Widaman, 1995; Reise et al., 2000). This
replication was done in Studies 2 and 3.
Method
Participants were recruited from undergraduate introductory psychology
classes. The 154 participants were on average 21.8 years of age (SD 3.9)
and mostly female (70%); most were Caucasian (79%), followed by Asian
(9%), Native American (4%), African American (3%), Asian American
(2%), and Hispanic (1%), with 2% endorsing “other.”
The 17 items loading on the Presence and Search factors retained in
Study 1a were subjected to CFA, using the structural equation modeling
program AMOS 4.01 (Arbuckle, 1999).
Results and Discussion
We assessed goodness of fit with a variety of fit indices, as is
widely recommended (scores below .90 indicate acceptable fit, per
Finch & West, 1997, except for the root-mean-square error of
approximation [RMSEA], on which values below .10 indicate
adequate fit; Browne & Cudeck, 1993). These 17 items did not
achieve acceptable fit with the two-factor model proposed,
2
(118,
N154) 353.87, p.0001 (goodness-of-fit index .77;
adjusted goodness-of-fit index .71; normed fit index .79;
Tucker–Lewis index .83; comparative fit index .85;
RMSEA .11). Three items (two from the Presence factor, one
from the Search factor) were first eliminated because they reduced
model fit (modification index 12.0) and had low factor loadings
(less than .50), leaving a 14-item scale with marginally acceptable
fit indices. We then conducted a CFA with the remaining 14 items.
Modification indices indicated that allowing a number of residuals
to covary and eliminating additional items from each scale would
improve model fit. Decisions regarding whether to follow the
modification indices were based on theoretical considerations of
item and scale content. We did not allow residuals to covary,
because there is no theoretical reason to assume associations
among residuals. However, we did eliminate items if they had low
factor loadings (.60) and if modification indices suggested their
elimination would improve model fit, whether because of substan-
tial covariance with the unintended latent factor or with other
items. Negatively worded items were selected for retention over
more highly loading positively worded items in the hopes of
ameliorating response sets (see the Appendix for the final, 10-item
MLQ).
Fitting items to scales is more difficult than fitting scales to
latent constructs given the greater error variance in single-item
scale scores and given that models estimating fewer parameters are
generally easier to support (Floyd & Widaman, 1995). Thus, there
is a tension between achieving the best model fit and including a
sufficient number of items to satisfy traditional psychometric
concerns, such as internal consistency (Clark & Watson, 1995).
The model that appeared to best balance concerns regarding model
fit and internal consistency comprised five items per scale (see the
Appendix). The best way to determine the quality of model fit is
to look for agreement and consistency across a number of fit
indices (Dilalla, 2000; Ullman, 2001). Fit indices for the 10-item
model are presented in Table 1 and overall indicated a good fit.
The Presence and Search factors were slightly intercorrelated (r
.19). In addition, internal consistency was good for both the
Table 1
Summary of Fit Indices for Confirmatory Factor Analyses in Studies 1–3
Study N
2
GFI AGFI NFI TLI CFI IFI RMSEA
(P/S)
1b 153 57.68** 0.93 0.89 0.93 0.96 0.97 0.97 0.07 .86/.87
2 279 56.04** 0.97 0.96 0.97 0.98 0.99 0.99 0.04 .86/.86
3 402 149.59**** 0.93 0.89 0.92 0.91 0.93 0.93 0.09 .82/.87
Note. CFI comparative fit index; IFI incremental fit index; RMSEA root-mean-square error of
approximation; GFI goodness-of-fit index; AGFI adjusted goodness-of-fit index; NFI normed fit index;
TLI Tucker–Lewis index. (P/S) Presence/Search subscales.
** p.01. **** p.001.
83
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
Presence (.86) and Search (.87) subscales. A PFA was performed
to calculate item cross-loadings, which are not estimated in CFA.
All items loaded more highly on the intended factor (.70 to .84)
than on the other (–.10 to .13). Additional item statistics are
provided for the final 10 items in Table 2.
Descriptive Statistics
Mean scores were 23.5 (SD 6.6) and 23.1 (SD 6.6) on the
MLQ Presence (MLQ–P) and Search (MLQ–S) subscales, respec-
tively. Scores were slightly above but close to the midpoint of the
scale (20). The shape of the distributions approximated normality,
and scores were variable, as demonstrated by their standard
deviations.
Relations With Demographics
Scores on the MLQ Presence and Search subscales did not differ
across gender, race, or religion. Neither subscale was related to
grade point average. However, Presence had a small positive
correlation with age (r.17, p.05).
Convergent Validity
Correlations among the final MLQ subscales and other variables
were calculated and are presented in Table 3. As predicted, Pres-
ence positively correlated with life satisfaction, positive emotions,
intrinsic religiosity, extraversion, and agreeableness and nega-
tively correlated with depression, negative emotions, and neurot-
icism. The one unexpected finding was the positive correlation
between Presence and conscientiousness, although this is similar to
findings regarding psychological well-being, which includes pur-
pose in life (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002). Although the Search
subscale overall seemed unrelated to these constructs, it was sig-
nificantly positively correlated with neuroticism, depression, and
several negative emotions, consistent with Frankl (1963, 1965).
Discriminant Validity
Consistent with the relativistic value-free approach used in scale
development, scores on the MLQ subscales were uncorrelated with
the value rankings. The MLQ subscales were also unrelated to
social desirability. The nonsignificant relation between meaning
and extrinsic religiosity is evidence of discriminant validity, be-
cause extrinsic religiosity describes the component of religious-
ness that is divorced from spiritual meaning.
Summary of Studies 1a and 1b
In sum, in Study 1a, exploratory factor analysis identified two
independent factors, labeled Presence of Meaning and Search for
Meaning. In Study 1b, a CFA indicated that the best model was
one in which each factor was measured with five items. These two
subscales were also shown to be internally consistent. In addition,
theoretically expected convergence with and discrimination from
other measures were documented. To assess the robustness of the
factor structure, we sought replication in an independent sample.
Study 2
Method
Participants were 400 students recruited from introductory psychology
classes, mostly women (59%). Most were Caucasian (77%), followed by
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics for Final Item Selection, Study 1b
Subscale
Item means
(SD)
Corrected
item-scale r
Item
squared
multiple
correlations
Presence
MLQ 1 4.1 (1.7) .72 .53
MLQ 4 4.7 (1.5) .71 .52
MLQ 5 5.1 (1.3) .66 .44
MLQ 6 4.4 (1.6) .67 .46
MLQ 9(r) 5.6 (1.5) .65 .44
Search
MLQ 2 4.3 (1.6) .68 .50
MLQ 3 5.0 (1.4) .63 .42
MLQ 7 4.4 (1.5) .70 .50
MLQ 8 4.8 (1.5) .70 .50
MLQ 10 4.5 (1.7) .77 .61
Note. N 154. MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire. (r) indicates
reverse-scored item.
Table 3
Correlations Between MLQ Subscales Presence and Search and
Other Well-Being Measures in Studies 1a and 1b
Presence Search
Presence
a
(.86)
Search
a
.09 (.87)
Life Satisfaction
b
.46*** .12
Love
b
.40*** .04
Joy
b
.49*** .09
Fear
b
.20* .25***
Anger
b
.17* .14
Shame
b
.20* .19*
Sadness
b
.35*** .26***
Neuroticism
b
.23** .20*
Extraversion
b
.28*** .09
Openness
b
.13 .09
Conscientiousness
b
.17* .03
Agreeableness
b
.23** .03
Depression
c
.48*** .36***
Intrinsic Religiosity
b
.30*** .11
Extrinsic Religiosity
b
.15 .12
Social Desirability
d
.08 .02
Power
b
.04 .02
Achievement
b
.02 .11
Hedonism
b
.01 .12
Stimulation
b
.07 .00
Self-Direction
b
.01 .15
Universalism
b
.03 .13
Benevolence
b
.06 .04
Tradition
b
.14 .09
Conformity
b
.06 .12
Security
b
.13 .02
Note. Sample sizes differ depending on the correlation because not ev-
erybody completed all measures. MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire.
Numbers in parentheses are alpha coefficients.
a
n304.
b
n151.
c
n120.
d
n271.
*p.05. ** p.01. *** p.005.
84 STEGER, FRAZIER, OISHI, AND KALER
Asian or Asian American (10%), and African American (4%), with 1%
each for Native American and Hispanic. Their mean age was 19.7 years
(SD 3.0). Participants completed a short survey packet including the
10-item MLQ, as well as the last 4 MLQ items to be eliminated in Study
1b, to allow testing of alternate factor structures in the event of poor model
fit.
Results and Discussion
All analyses were performed on the 10-item MLQ. Mean scores
were 23.8 (SD 5.9) and 23.4 (SD 6.3) on the Presence and
Search subscales, respectively, and the scales were internally con-
sistent (see Table 1 for alphas). The same factorial model was
tested in this study as in Study 1b with CFA using AMOS 4.01
(Arbuckle, 1999). The CFA path estimate indicated a stronger
relation between Presence and Search than observed in Study 1
(
⫽⫺.28). Factor loadings were robust (between .65 and .83 on
their intended factors), and fit indices indicated a good fit of the
model to the data (see Table 1). This study provides a replication
of the two-factor structure of the MLQ.
Summary of Studies 1 and 2
In contrast to previous meaning in life scales, the MLQ has a
robust factor structure, replicated by CFA in an independent sam-
ple. The Presence of Meaning subscale measures the subjective
sense that one’s life is meaningful, whereas Search for Meaning
measures the drive and orientation toward finding meaning in
one’s life. Both subscales have demonstrated good internal con-
sistency (
s.86 –.88). Scale construction was geared toward
creating somewhat orthogonal factors, selecting items that loaded
highly on the intended factor and minimally on the other factor.
This enables the assessment of these two distinct constructs, the
search for meaning and the presence of meaning.
The relative independence of these two subscales creates an
apparent conceptual paradox, however. Why would someone re-
port searching for something they already have? Why wouldn’t
someone search for meaning if he or she reported not having any?
Exemplars of individuals who continued to search for greater
meaning in their lives while already living lives of deep purpose
are readily available (e.g., Gandhi). Another line of thinking sug-
gests that if those who derive meaning from more sources in their
lives fare better (Baumeister, 1991), then those who report having
meaning might still continue to search for additional sources of
meaning. Alternatively, the search for meaning could be a desire
for a deeper or more gratifying understanding of what makes one’s
life meaningful. Finally, it could also be the case that the elements
that give meaning to a person’s life fluctuate over time. For
instance, one could derive a great deal of meaning from training
for a first marathon but find that upon its conclusion, one has a
desire to find something else to make life feel meaningful, without
necessarily experiencing meaninglessness.
The Presence and Search subscales correlated generally as ex-
pected with other well-being and psychological variables, with the
magnitude of correlations in Study 1b generally indicating that
Presence shares less than 25% of its variance with other measures.
This is in contrast to other meaning measures, which often appear
to share more than 50% of their variance with other measures (e.g.,
Zika & Chamberlain, 1987). Because one of the criticisms of
meaning measures is that they are confounded with other con-
structs (e.g., Dyck, 1987), a more formal test of the discriminant
validity of the MLQ was desired. Of particular importance was a
comparative analysis of the relations among the MLQ scales, other
meaning in life scales, and other well-being variables.
Study 3
The purposes of this study were (a) to further establish the
convergent and discriminant validity of the MLQ subscales and (b)
to compare the discriminant validity of meaning measures (i.e.,
MLQ Presence, PIL, and LRI). We used a multitrait–multimethod
matrix (MTMM) design, which allows for a comprehensive anal-
ysis of convergent and discriminant validity (Campbell & Fiske,
1959). Convergent validity is demonstrated by significant correla-
tions between different methods of measuring the same trait
(monotrait– heteromethod). Discriminant validity requires a
lengthier set of comparisons, all of which essentially demonstrate
higher correlations among methods of assessing the same trait as
compared with those measuring different traits (either heterotrait–
monomethod or heterotrait– heteromethod). The two methods were
participant’s self-report and informant report. Participants com-
pleted the MLQ and a variety of other meaning and well-being
measures at two time points (1 month apart). Informant reports of
all the measures were obtained once, between Times 1 and 2.
Convergent validity in an MTMM study is established when
different methods of measuring the same trait are significantly
related. Thus, self-reports on the Presence and Search subscales
were expected to be significantly positively correlated with infor-
mant reports on those same subscales. Because the Presence sub-
scale was designed to measure the same construct as the LRI and
the PIL, significant correlations between self- and informant re-
ports on the MLQ–P and the two other meaning measures would
indicate convergent validity as well. Very large (.70) relations
were expected among self-reports of the MLQ–P, LRI, and PIL.
Discriminant validity would be established if different methods
of assessing the presence and search for meaning were more highly
related to each other than to methods of assessing different traits.
Evidence of discriminant validity could be obtained by including
measures of a theoretically unrelated trait, such as social desirabil-
ity, in an MTMM. Including measures of related but different traits
would yield a more robust test. Thus, measures of life satisfaction,
self-esteem, and optimism, which overlap theoretically with mean-
ing in life, were included. For example, one may be inclined to
endorse a variety of well-being variables, potentially including
meaning, if one generally regards oneself highly. Conversely, if
one feels dissatisfied with one’s life, one may be inclined to search
for alternatives, including a search for meaning in life. The MLQ
subscales were expected to correlate with other well-being scales,
in accordance with previous research using these subscales (i.e.,
small to medium effect sizes for the MLQ–S and medium to large
effect sizes for the MLQ–P). Correlations of these sizes would
indicate significant relations but would not suggest confounding
with well-being variables. Also, the Search subscale was expected
to be uncorrelated, or to exhibit small effect sizes, with the mean-
ing measures, supporting its relative independence from meaning
in life. In addition, the MLQ–P subscale was expected to correlate
more highly with other meaning measures than with well-being
measures. These findings would provide strong support for the
85
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
discriminant validity of the MLQ–P as a measure of meaning in
life, as opposed to other forms of well-being.
Because of previous work highlighting possible confounding with
other constructs in the two most commonly used measures of meaning
in life, the second aim of this study was to compare the discriminant
validity of the MLQ–P, the PIL, and the LRI. The correlations
between the PIL and the LRI and other well-being measures were
expected to occasionally exceed the correlations between self-report
and informant report on these two scales. This would indicate a lack
of adequate discriminant validity for these two scales.
Method
Participants and Procedure
Participants were recruited from a large university and a large community
college from the Minneapolis metropolitan area. Seventy participants (mean
age 21.1, SD 5.2) completed both the Time 1 and Time 2 packets and
returned informant packets. Participants were mostly female (63%) and Cau-
casian (75%), followed by Asian (8%), Asian American (4%), African Amer-
ican (3%), and Hispanic (3%), with 1% reporting Native American and 6%
reporting “other.” Most participants were Protestant (34%) or Catholic (30%;
all other religions less than 6%). All target participants completed a packet of
surveys at two times, separated by 1 month, in large groups. Participants were
asked to obtain informant reports from three or four people who knew them
well (e.g., friends, parents, or siblings). Informants (n252) were somewhat
older and more varied in age than target participants (mean age 26.5, SD
12.2). They were mostly undergraduate students (63%) and female (63%);
most were Caucasian (82%), followed by Asian (6%), Asian American (4%),
and African American (2%), with 1% each reporting Native American and
Hispanic, and 4% reporting “other.”
Most informants were Catholic (39%) or Protestant (31%; all other
religions less than 4%). Informants were instructed to respond in the
manner they thought their friend or family member would respond if they
were filling out the survey about themselves. Informants were asked to
inscribe the initials of the target participant several times during the
instructions and again prior to completing each scale. Informants filled out
survey packets on their own time. In addition to the packet of surveys they
were to complete about the study targets, informants were given self-report
versions of the MLQ.
Participant Time 1 and informant self-reported scores on the MLQ were
combined to provide a sample for the replication of the two-factor structure.
The average age of the combined sample (targets and informants; 61% female)
was 24.4 years (SD 10.4). Thus, the combined sample (N401) was older
and more diversely aged than the samples in Studies 1a, 1b, and 2. Only 47%
of the participants completed both survey packets and returned at least three
informant reports (70 out of 149 who completed the Time 1 survey). Those
who returned at least three reports did not differ from those who did not in
gender, age, race, religious affiliation, or year in school.
Measures
Participants indicated their age, gender, religion, and grade point average
and also completed the MLQ and SWLS (Diener et al., 1985), which were
previously described. In addition, survey packets included the following
measures.
The LRI (Battista & Almond, 1973) is a 28-item scale that assesses
positive life regard, defined as the extent to which a person has a valued life
framework, or meaning structure, and feels that this framework is being
fulfilled. The LRI has two 14-item subscales that purport to measure the
framework and fulfillment aspects of life regard, although the difficulty of
obtaining appropriate factorial fit has led to the recommendation that the
scale be used unidimensionally (Harris & Standard, 2001). The LRI has
consistently demonstrated excellent internal consistency (e.g., Zika &
Chamberlain, 1992). Reliability data for this and all other scales used in
Study 3 are reported in Table 4.
The 20-item PIL (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964) is the most widely
used meaning in life scale, despite the concerns described previously
regarding confounding with other variables and problems with its factorial
structure. Nonetheless, the scale has generally demonstrated good conver-
gent validity with measures of well-being and distress, as well as good
internal consistency (e.g., Zika & Chamberlain, 1992). The PIL provides
participants with unique anchors for each item, some of which are bipolar,
some of which are unipolar, and some of which provide an indeterminate
continuum (i.e., “If I could choose, I would . . . “ “prefer never to have been
born” through “live nine more lives just like this one”).
Participants also completed the Life Orientation Test (LOT; Scheier &
Carver, 1985), a commonly used 12-item measure of optimism. Respon-
dents indicated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with 4
positively worded, 4 negatively worded, and 4 filler items. The LOT has
demonstrated good validity and reliability (see Scheier & Carver, 1985).
Finally, packets included the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Test (RSET;
Rosenberg, 1965), a widely accepted 10-item measure assessing the pos-
itivity of self-regard on a 4-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to
strongly agree. The RSET has demonstrated reliability and validity in a
large number of studies (e.g., Lucas et al., 1996).
Results and Discussion
Mean scores for target participants at Time 1 on the Presence
and Search subscales were 24.0 (SD 5.6) and 22.5 (SD 6.2),
respectively. University students did not differ from community
college students, and participants who dropped out after Time 1
did not differ on any of the meaning or well-being variables (all
ps.15). Scores did not differ across gender, race, or year in
school. Presence scores differed across religion, F(7, 133) 2.39,
p.05, with participants endorsing “other” religions scoring
higher than Protestants, Catholics, atheists, or agnostics, and ag-
nostics scoring lower than Muslims. Search was related to grade
point average (r.21, p.05), and as in Study 1, Presence was
related to age (r.20, p.05). This latter relation is in
concordance with other findings (e.g., Reker & Fry, 2003). The
mean scores for informants’ self-reports of the MLQ were 24.8
(SD 5.6) for Presence and 21.8 (SD 6.9) for Search.
CFA of MLQ Structure in a Replication Sample
CFA on the combined sample was performed using AMOS 4.01
(Arbuckle, 1999). Factor loadings were all high (.55 to .84). Fit
indices were acceptable (see Table 1). The marginal RMSEA and
adjusted goodness-of-fit index indicate a lack of full parsimony,
suggesting that fewer items might reflect the factor structure with
similar accuracy (Dilalla, 2000; Finch & West, 1997). However, as
stated above, five items per scale was desired to maintain internal
consistency. Both Presence (
.82) and Search (
.87)
displayed good reliability in the aggregate sample.
Reliability for the MLQ and Other Meaning Measures
The alpha coefficients for the target self-reports on the MLQ–P and
MLQ–S were .81 and .84 during Time 1, respectively, and .86 and .92
during Time 2, representing good internal consistency. One-month
test–retest stability coefficients were good (.70 for the MLQ–P, .73 for
the MLQ–S). The PIL (.86) and LRI (.87) also showed good temporal
stability and good internal consistency (.88 and .93, respectively).
86 STEGER, FRAZIER, OISHI, AND KALER
Consistent with Lucas et al. (1996), all other well-being measures (life
satisfaction, optimism, self-esteem) also showed good test–retest re-
liability and internal consistency (see Table 4).
Convergent and Discriminant Validity Analysis
Bivariate correlation coefficients were computed between all
concurrently and longitudinally collected self-report measures. To
compute correlation values for target self-reports and informant
reports at Time 1 and Time 2, the correlations between informant
and self-report ratings were first computed for each informant
separately. Only data from participants with three or more infor-
mant reports were used to calculate convergence between targets
and informants. Among the 70 participants who turned in three or
more informant packets, 14 turned in four. Three packets were
randomly selected for each of these 14 participants. Thus, target
self-report scores were correlated with three informant scores for
each participant. The average of these three correlation coefficients
was then entered into the matrix. Average coefficients representing
informant–informant correlations were calculated by taking the
average of nine coefficients (3 informants 3 informants). Av-
eraged correlations provide a more accurate estimate of relation-
ships than creating “composite informants” (e.g., Sandvik, Diener,
& Siedlitz, 1993) because the aggregation of multiple informant
scores can inflate reported relationships, whereas averaging the
correlations better represents the actual observed relationships
(Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein, & Winquist, 1997). The full
correlation matrix is shown in Table 4.
We performed several of the typical comparisons described by
Campbell and Fiske (1959). However, two specific aspects of this
MTMM caused us to alter our comparison strategy. The first was
the inclusion of two other measures of meaning in life, as dis-
cussed previously, which enabled us to test the convergent validity
of the MLQ–P using the LRI and PIL as additional measures of
meaning in life. The second aspect was that the Time 2 adminis-
tration was not a completely independent method, because it used
the same self-report format as Time 1. Thus, we treated the Time
1 and Time 2 reports as the same method. Because of this, we
compared the validity diagonals (the convergence of scores on the
same measure across methods, or monotrait– heteromethod values;
Campbell & Fiske, 1959) at both Time 1 and Time 2 with all of the
correlations between self- and informant reports (i.e., all of the
heterotrait– heteromethod and heterotrait–monomethod values for
the MLQ subscales). Thus, instead of comparing self- and infor-
mant report correlations at Time 1 with informant reports and
Time 1 reports only, we also compared them with Time 2 reports.
This strategy led to more comparisons, but in addition, it both
provided a most rigorous test of discriminant validity and seemed
a more accurate reflection of the high degree of overlap between
the Time 1 self-report and the retest 1 month later. We first present
evidence for the MLQ–P, followed by the MLQ–S.
Table 4
Multitrait–Multimethod Correlation Matrix of Meaning in Life and Well-Being Measures in Study 4
123456789101112131415161718192021
1. MLQ–P .814
2. PIL .606 .875
3. LRI .659 .804 .930
4. SWL .411 .686 .600 .855
5. EST .372 .643 .697 .553 .836
6. LOT .370 .680 .664 .502 .607 .826
7. MLQ–S .241 .179 .302 .239 .305 .174 .840
8. fMLQ–P .283 .243 .281 .152 .197 .278 .214 .757
9. fPIL .267 .422 .429 .391 .390 .364.227 .298 .869
10. fLRI .305 .413 .467 .354 .335 .416 .311 .383 .427 .913
11. fSWL .187 .384 .386 .448 .320 .295 .253 .251 .457 .359 .821
12. fEST .184 .335 .381 .342 .369 .334 .235 .263 .403 .417 .371 .860
13. fLOT .148 .241 .291 .258 .236 .360 .206 .242 .320 .379 .294 .346 .841
14. fMLQ–S .115 .134 .180 .202 .189 .035 .308 .135 .097 .135 .215 .188 .123 .857
15. 2MLQ–P .699 .597 .667 .484 .396 .491 .316 .390 .296 .464 .279 .223 .251 .140 .855
16. 2PIL .582 .861 .780 .647 .592 .673 .205 .277 .445 .489 .439 .356 .344 .047 .708 .885
17. 2LRI .597 .781 .866 .596 .651 .708 .229 .329 .439 .527 .414 .366 .381 .095 .742 .862 .941
18. 2SWL .375 .609 .590 .798 .454 .508 .343 .226 .351 .423 .421 .311 .347 .129 .558 .746 .653 .859
19. 2EST .348 .648 .609 .542 .819 .556 .213 .130 .326 .302 .327 .361 .242 .091 .380 .693 .672 .560 .853
20. 2LOT .406 .619 .692 .496 .590 .814 .144 .258 .357 .446 .332 .340 .418 .074 .568 .742 .790 .580 .617 .883
21. 2MLQ–S .340 .251 .339 .375 .326 .261 .725 .223 .224 .336 .264 .294 .304 .350 .296 .209 .303 .276 .218 .146 .915
Note. Correlations are based on 70 participants (the number of participants who completed both Time 1 and 2 reports and returned at least three informant
packets). Correlations above .198 are significant at p.05. MLQ Meaning in Life Questionnaire. Time 1 target self-reports are MLQ–P
MLQ–Presence; PIL Purpose in Life Test; LRI Life Regard Index; SWL Satisfaction with Life Scale; EST Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory;
LOT Life Orientation Test (optimism); and MLQ–S MLQ–Search. Informant Reports are fMLQ–P; fPIL; fLRI; fSWL; fEST; fLOT; and fMLQ–S.
f indicates friend. Time 2 target self-reports are 2MLQ–P; 2PIL; 2LRI; 2SWL; 2EST; 2LOT; and 2MLQ–S. 2 indicates Time 2. Bold italics indicate scores
on same measures using different methods or at retest. Italics indicate alpha coefficients and are on the diagonal.
87
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
Convergent and Discriminant Validity for the MLQ–P
Convergent validity between target and informant reports on the
MLQ–P. To establish convergent validity, self-reports should be
correlated with informant reports. Both the Time 1 (.28) and Time
2 (.39) monotrait– heteromethod correlations between self- and
informant reports on the MLQ–P were significant.
Convergent validity with other meaning measures. Because
they purport to measure the same construct, the MLQ–P should be
significantly correlated with the LRI and PIL. All eight self-report
correlations (i.e., two correlations between Time 1 MLQ–P and
Time 1 PIL and LRI, two between Time 1 MLQ–P and Time 2
meaning measures, two between Time 2 MLQ–P and Time 2
measures, and two between Time 2 MLQ–P and Time 1 measures)
between the MLQ–P and the PIL and LRI were significant and
ranged from .58 to .74. These correlations were higher than Co-
hen’s (1992) conventions for large effect sizes. Correlations
among self- and informant reports should also be significant for
these measures. All four heteromethod correlations between the
MLQ–P and the other meaning measures were significant and
ranged from .29 to .38. Thus, these two tests provide evidence of
the convergent validity of the MLQ–P.
Discriminant validity of the MLQ–P. Self-report scores on the
MLQ–P were expected to correlate more highly with self-reports
on other meaning measures than with self-reports on well-being
measures (i.e., self-esteem, life satisfaction, optimism). The test–
retest coefficient for the MLQ–P was .70, and the average corre-
lation of the MLQ–P with other meaning measures was .65. These
correlations were in all cases higher than the self-report correla-
tions between the MLQ–P and the well-being scales, the average
correlations for which were .38 (Time 1), .50 (Time 2), and .42
(Time 1 to Time 2).
To further establish discriminant validity, scores on the MLQ–P
assessed with different methods (monotrait– heteromethod) should
correlate more highly with each other than they do with scores on
the well-being measures assessed using different methods
(heterotrait– heteromethod). As reported previously, the correla-
tions between self- and informant reports for the MLQ–P were .28
and .39. Correlations of self-reports with informant reports be-
tween the MLQ–P and well-being scales were in all cases lower
(between .19 [Time 1] and .23 [Time 2], with a mean correlation
of .21). These correlations were also lower than the heteromethod
correlations between the MLQ–P and the other meaning measures,
which ranged between .27 (Time 1) and .34 (Time 2). Informant
and both Time 1 and Time 2 self-report correlations were higher
among the MLQ–P and other meaning measures than among the
MLQ–P and other well-being measures in 91% (87/96) of com-
parisons, supporting the discriminant validity of the MLQ–P. In
contrast, only 51% (49/96) of these comparisons were successful
for the PIL, and only 58% (56/96) were successful for the LRI.
This indicates a failure of these two measures to adequately
discriminate from other well-being constructs.
Evidence from informant reports also supported the discrimi-
nant validity of the MLQ–P, with informant–informant correla-
tions between the MLQ–P and the PIL (.30) and the LRI (.38)
exceeding those between the MLQ–P and the SWLS (.25), RSET
(.26), and LOT (.24). Thus, it appeared that the MLQ–P discrim-
inated from other types of well-being even among informants. In
contrast, the informant–informant correlations between the PIL
and MLQ–P (.30) and LRI (.43) exceeded some of the correlations
between the PIL and SWLS (.46), RSET (.40), and LOT (.32) for
only two of six successful comparisons. The LRI did better, with
informant–informant correlations with the MLQ–P (.38) and PIL
(.43) exceeding or matching those with the SWLS (.36), RSET
(.42), and LOT (.38) in all but one comparison.
A stringent test of discriminant validity suggested by Campbell and
Fiske (1959) is a comparison between monotrait– heteromethod cor-
relations (i.e., self-reports and informant reports for the same trait) and
correlations with other traits measured by the same method
(heterotrait–monomethod), reasoning that assessments of the same
traits by different methods should be more similar than assessments of
different traits by the same method (correlations that might share only
method variance). We compared the correlation between Time 1
self-reports and informant reports for the MLQ–P both with concur-
rent self-report correlations between the MLQ–P and well-being mea-
sures and with the correlations among informant reports on the
MLQ–P and on well-being measures. We also made parallel compar-
isons using Time 2 reports and informant reports. At Time 1 the
self–informant correlation for the MLQ–P (.28) exceeded one of four
self-report correlations and all four informant report correlations be-
tween the MLQ–P and well-being measures. At Time 2, the self–
informant correlation for the MLQ–P (.39) exceeded two of four
self-report and all four informant report correlations between the
MLQ–P and well-being measures, for an overall success rate of 11/16
at Times 1 and 2. Somewhat lower success rates were observed for the
PIL (8/16) and LRI (10/16).
Comparison of Meaning Measures
In addition to differences in discriminant validity among the
measures previously noted, the average concurrent correlations
with well-being measures were much larger for the PIL (.70) and
LRI (.68) than for the MLQ–P (.44). Thus, the PIL and LRI
appeared to display excessive overlap with other measures of
well-being, replicating previous results (Zika & Chamberlain,
1987, 1992) and supporting criticisms of these measures (e.g.,
Dyck, 1987).
One strength of the PIL and LRI, however, appeared to be that
average correlations between self-reports and informant reports
were somewhat higher than for the MLQ–P (PIL mean r.43,
LRI mean r.50, MLQ–P mean r.34), and both the PIL and
the LRI demonstrated excellent convergent validity overall. How-
ever, their discriminant validity was of questionable quality. In this
regard, the MLQ is superior to previous scales.
Convergent and Discriminant Validity for the MLQ–S
Fewer analyses are provided for the MLQ–S because multiple
measures of the search for meaning are not available. Thus, only
basic convergent and discriminant validity evidence is presented.
Convergent validity of the MLQ–S. Evidence of convergent
validity for the MLQ–S was provided by the significant correla-
tions between self- and informant reports on the MLQ–S at Time
1 (.31) and Time 2 (.35).
Discriminant validity of the MLQ–S. Discriminant validity is
supported when correlations between self- and informant reports
for the MLQ–S exceed heteromethod correlations with other mea-
sures. The average correlation between self- and informant reports
88 STEGER, FRAZIER, OISHI, AND KALER
on the MLQ–S was .33. These correlations were higher than the
self–informant correlations between the MLQ–S and meaning and
well-being measures 96% of the time, supporting the discriminant
validity of this scale.
The more stringent test of discriminant validity compared
monotrait– heteromethod correlations (self–informant correlations)
on the MLQ–S with the heterotrait–monomethod correlations (e.g.,
within Time 1 self-reports or informant–informant correlations)
between the MLQ–S and other measures. Most (88%) of these
comparisons favored the discriminant validity of the MLQ–S.
Summary
Study 3 supported the convergent and discriminant validity of
both MLQ subscales. The MLQ–P was also shown to have better
discriminant validity than two often-used meaning measures.
General Discussion
Evidence from three studies demonstrates that the two subscales
of the MLQ appear to represent reliable, structurally sound mea-
sures of the presence of meaning and the search for meaning. First,
in contrast to other meaning measures, the factor structure of the
MLQ was replicated in two independent samples using CFA. The
relative independence of the two subscales, as well as their differ-
ing patterns of correlations with other measures, means that for the
first time, the presence of meaning can be assessed separately from
the search for meaning. Second, the Presence subscale correlates
as expected with a number of well-being, personality, and religi-
osity variables. Furthermore, an MTMM matrix study demon-
strated that the MLQ–P possesses better discriminant validity than
the two most often used meaning measures, the PIL and the LRI.
The MLQ–S also was supported as being a measure distinct from
other aspects of well-being and meaning.
In sum, the MLQ represents a number of improvements over
existing measures of meaning, including more precise measure-
ment, greater structural stability, and assessment of the search for
meaning. As a final benefit, especially to large-scale or longitudi-
nal studies or therapeutic outcome uses, the MLQ subscales con-
tain only five items yet have demonstrated psychometric properties
comparable or superior to those of longer meaning in life scales.
The high convergent correlations (.61–.74) between the MLQ–P
and other meaning measures indicate that they are tapping the
same construct. Thus, given its brevity and unconfounded mea-
surement of meaning, the MLQ appears to be a superior choice for
exploring the theoretical space and functioning of meaning in life.
The principal benefit of using better measurement in the inves-
tigation of meaning in life is that it enables more accurate estima-
tion of the true relationship between meaning and related con-
structs. For instance, one finding common to both the LRI and the
PIL is that people’s levels of reported meaning appear to increase
following psychotherapy. Until now, it has been impossible to
untangle the contributions made to these changes in meaning by
reduced depression or anxiety, or increased life satisfaction, or any
of the other constructs that have been cited as potential confounds.
Study 3 indicates that the MLQ is free of inordinate covariance
with several other measures of well-being. Additional correlations
presented indicate that the MLQ is not excessively correlated with
affect, religiosity, and values or depression, anxiety, and hostility.
Meaning in life can be viewed as a correlate, component, cause, or
outcome of well-being. Without the ability to measure distinct
constructs, our ability to explore their theoretical and causal spaces
is severely hampered (see Kashdan, 2004, for a similar discussion
regarding subjective well-being measurement).
The studies presented here echo previous findings that feeling
one’s life is meaningful is important to human functioning. In
these and other studies (e.g., Weinstein & Cleanthous, 1996; Zika
& Chamberlain, 1992) those who felt their life to be meaningful
were less depressed and felt greater satisfaction with their lives,
greater self-esteem and optimism, and more positive affect. In
addition, those who experience meaning in their lives are more
likely to be personally involved in their religious activities. Mean-
ing seems to be an indicator of a healthy and appreciated life and
deserves greater attention in empirical investigations of human
functioning. A less clear picture emerges regarding those who are
searching for meaning. Although the search for meaning has
typically been characterized as a response to upsetting events (e.g.,
Thompson & Janigian, 1988), it appears to have considerable
variability in the present samples when assessed as a global con-
struct. In addition, very little support was found for the widespread
assumption that the search for meaning manifests only when one’s
life feels meaningless; instead, it was shown to be distinct and
independent from the presence of meaning in life. Frankl (1965)
and Maddi (1970) may be correct, however, when they suggest
that frustration of the innate search for meaning in life may be
distressing, as demonstrated by small to medium correlations be-
tween scores on the Search subscale and negative affect, depres-
sion, and neuroticism.
The ability of the MLQ to measure search and presence inde-
pendently allows for greater theoretical and empirical flexibility. It
is now possible to identify those who feel great meaningfulness yet
still seek to further their understanding of life’s meaning and
compare them with those who feel their life is meaningful and are
not engaged in any further search for meaning. For instance,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malcolm X, or Mahatma Gandhi may all
exemplify lives in which great purpose and meaning did not
foreclose the active and open pursuit for greater understanding of
their meaning and purpose in the world. However, questions may
remain about the true independence of the two constructs. Previ-
ously we discussed three possible explanations: that people might
seek to add to their current sources of meaning, that they might
want a deeper understanding of that which already makes their
lives feel meaningful, and that they might seek new sources of
meaning as existing ones fluctuate in significance.
Other examples exist in psychology wherein the search for and the
attainment of a construct are independent. Among these are theories
of identity formation. In his influential articulation of identity forma-
tion, Marcia (1966) used concepts of exploration and commitment
(adapted from Erikson, 1968) as the axes of a two-dimensional space
that describe the stages of identity development. In this model, indi-
viduals proceed from identity diffusion, in which they have neither
explored nor committed to an identity, through identity foreclosure, in
which they commit to an identity without exploring internally conso-
nant alternatives, and identity moratorium, in which they are explor-
ing possible identities without committing to any. Finally, individuals
commit to some identity discerned through exploration, a stage called
identity achievement. Models that predicate the necessity of an ex-
ploratory or searching stage have also been used in racial (e.g.,
89
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
Fischer, Tokar, & Serna, 1998), ethnic (e.g., Sevig, Highlen, &
Adams, 2000), and sexual (e.g., Levine, 1997) identity research. One
might argue that the development of meaning in life runs parallel to
the development of identity and that some people may be at a stage of
meaning diffusion (low presence, low search), meaning foreclosure
(high presence, low search), meaning moratorium (low presence, high
search), or meaning achievement (high presence, high search). To be
consistent with the identity formation literature, in the case of mean-
ing achievement, the implication is that people have searched in the
past, although they may or may not still be searching for meaning.
Stage theories are vulnerable to criticisms, however, among
which are the assumptions that people proceed through the stages
in a specific order and that they cannot simultaneously be in more
than one stage. Erikson used the term epigenesis to express the
idea that successful resolution of later identity stages requires
reexperiencing earlier stages, and that people also anticipate up-
coming stages and tensions (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986).
Erikson also noted that even those who successfully resolved
earlier stage crises may find that what worked at that time is
inadequate for their present challenges. Vocational development
theories also incorporate the idea of recycling through stages
during transitions or in response to crisis (e.g., Super, 1990). With
this in mind, one could theorize that those high in search for
meaning are in a transitory state, with some experiencing a move
from one satisfying lifestyle to another (high presence, high
search), such as the anticipated birth of a child within a rewarding
romantic relationship. Others may be faced with an existential
crisis (low presence, high search), such as trying to recover from
the death of a loved one. In fact, recent coping research has
revealed that the search for meaning in a traumatic event is
relatively independent from whether one has found meaning in that
event (Davis, Wortman, Lehman, & Silver, 2000). Among those
who struggled to understand why they experienced trauma, arriv-
ing at a reason did not cause them to stop searching for meaning.
This latter finding suggests that there may be individual differences
in the propensity to search for meaning in events. The data presented
here are not able to address whether the statistical independence
between presence and search is due to stable individual differences or
developmental features. In either case, the interaction between the two
constructs may have significant implications for well-being. For in-
stance, in data reported elsewhere, a significant interaction between
search and presence was found such that the presence of meaning in
life was more important to life satisfaction for those searching for
meaning, in both self-judgments and judgments of others (Steger &
Oishi, 2004). This gives some indication of the benefits of being able
to assess both constructs.
Implications for Counseling
Accurate measurement is essential to psychological research.
“Purified” measures of the presence of and search for meaning in
life should benefit theory development in one of counseling’s
traditional foci, positive human functioning (Lent, 2004). In addi-
tion, the MLQ scales could be used to gather information at intake
and assess successful therapy outcomes (cf. Gelso & Woodhouse,
2003). For example, a significant portion of clients present with a
desire for personal growth. The MLQ Search subscale can effec-
tively gauge the extent to which clients seek greater purpose and
meaning as part of this growth process. The majority of self-
initiated counseling focuses on clients’ efforts to recover their
well-being or heal from aversive events or experiences (Lent,
2004). The MLQ Presence subscale provides an additional brief
measure of psychological health, given both the pattern of inverse
relations with common forms of psychological distress reported in
the present studies (i.e., depression, anxiety) and the finding that a
deeper appreciation of life (increased sense of life’s meaning) is
one of the most commonly reported positive outcomes of coping
with adversity (Tedeschi, Park, & Calhoun, 1998). The MLQ
Presence subscale could also be used to assess the effectiveness of
interventions designed to increase well-being. Given recent efforts
by counseling psychologists to raise the profile of well-being
(Lent, 2004; Robbins & Kliewer, 2000; Walsh, 2003), as well as
the formation of a “positive psychology” section within the Soci-
ety for Counseling Psychology (Division 17 of American Psycho-
logical Association), the MLQ may be of timely assistance in
helping forward these research and applied agendas.
Limitations and Future Directions
The development and validation of the MLQ do not answer all
questions about the nature of meaning in life as a construct. We
have provided a subjective measure that leaves open the question
of what participants are considering when judging whether their
lives are meaningful. Future research, using the MLQ as an index
of meaning in life, should endeavor to identify the necessary
constituents and precursors to developing meaning in life, and the
bounds of its content space.
Limitations of the present studies also include the use of pri-
marily convenience samples of Midwestern undergraduate psy-
chology students, with the exception of the informant group from
Study 3. Students may not be representative of all individuals.
Meaning in life might play a larger role among older populations
than among younger populations (see Wong, 1998). Clark and
Watson (1995) stressed the importance of examining the factor
structure of psychological assessment scales in heterogeneous
samples. Such data would be beneficial to establish norms as well.
Data collection is currently underway to address these concerns.
Future research should also endeavor to access more diverse
samples, because there has been very little cross-cultural work in
this area. Some information is available regarding meaning in life
within specific cultures (e.g., Hong Kong; see Shek, 1997), but
there has been no systematic investigation of intra- and intercul-
tural differences and similarities in meaning in life. Exploration of
the sources of meaning for individuals in different cultures would
be especially fruitful (see Bar-Tur, Savaya, & Prager, 2001, for a
comparison of Israeli Arabs and Jews on this topic).
In addition, with the exception of Study 3, only self-report
methods were used in the present studies. To our knowledge,
methodologies in the study of meaning in life have been limited to
self-report, informant report (here), interviewer reports (PIL and
LRI), criterion groups (PIL and LRI), and analysis of writing
samples (e.g., Ebersole & DeVogler-Ebersole, 1984). Additional
methods, such as experience sampling, experimental manipulation,
behavioral observation, and long interval longitudinal studies,
could greatly inform our understanding of this construct.
Finally, little is known about how judgments of meaning in life
are formed. Do they rely on stable personality characteristics,
environmental or sociocultural contexts, mood, recent life events,
90 STEGER, FRAZIER, OISHI, AND KALER
or goal progress, to name a few potential candidates? The im-
proved measure of meaning in life presented in this article should
enable progress in these unexplored areas. The ability to measure
meaning in life, without confounding with other constructs, using
an instrument with good psychometric properties allows a more
nuanced and accurate analysis of mediators, moderators, and cor-
relates of meaning in life. Thus, we believe that the MLQ can
contribute to the advance of well-being research, an important
aspect of counseling psychology.
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Appendix
The Meaning in Life Questionnaire
MLQ Please take a moment to think about what makes your life feel important to you. Please respond to the following
statements as truthfully and accurately as you can, and also please remember that these are very subjective questions and
that there are no right or wrong answers. Please answer according to the scale below:
Absolutely
Untrue
Mostly
Untrue
Somewhat
Untrue
Can’t Say
True or False
Somewhat
True
Mostly
True
Absolutely
True
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1. I understand my life’s meaning.
2. I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful.
3. I am always looking to find my life’s purpose.
4. My life has a clear sense of purpose.
5. I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful.
6. I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.
7. I am always searching for something that makes my life feel significant.
8. I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life.
9. My life has no clear purpose.
10. I am searching for meaning in my life.
MLQ syntax to create Presence and Search subscales:
Presence 1, 4, 5, 6, & 9-reverse-coded
Search 2, 3, 7, 8, & 10
The copyright for this questionnaire is owned by the University of Minnesota. This questionnaire is intended for free use
in research and clinical applications. Please contact Michael F. Steger prior to any such noncommercial use. This
questionnaire may not be used for commercial purposes.
Received December 23, 2004
Revision received March 29, 2005
Accepted March 30, 2005
93
ASSESSING MEANING IN LIFE
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