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The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe): Relations to demographics and well-being

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Shortfalls of widely used measures of meaning in life are described. Their use results in biased correlations and restriction of the complexity inherent in experiences of meaning. To qualify results, the Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe) is employed. It offers separate scales to measure a positive and a negative dimension of meaning: meaningfulness–a fundamental sense of meaning and belonging, and crisis of meaning–the evaluation of life as frustratingly empty and lacking meaning. Both intercorrelate moderately (−.38/−.35). Additionally, the SoMe assesses 26 sources of meaning. Based on a representative sample, relationships between meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and sources of meaning with demographics are reported (Study 1). In Study 2, SoMe scales are correlated with positive (mood, satisfaction with life) and negative (neuroticism, anxiety, depression) indicators of well-being. SEM reveals that meaningfulness predicts positive well-being, but is not predictive of negative well-being. Crisis of meaning is a strong predictor for both positive and negative well-being.
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The Journal of Positive Psychology
Vol. 4, No. 6, November 2009, 483–499
The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe): Relations to
demographics and well-being
Tatjana Schnell
*
Institute of Psychology, Personality and Individual Differences, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Shortfalls of widely used measures of meaning in life are described. Their use results in biased correlations and
restriction of the complexity inherent in experiences of meaning. To qualify results, the Sources of Meaning and
Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe) is employed. It offers separate scales to measure a positive and a negative
dimension of meaning: meaningfulness a fundamental sense of meaning and belonging, and crisis of meaning
the evaluation of life as frustratingly empty and lacking meaning. Both intercorrelate moderately (.38/.35).
Additionally, the SoMe assesses 26 sources of meaning. Based on a representative sample, relationships between
meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and sources of meaning with demographics are reported (Study 1). In Study 2,
SoMe scales are correlated with positive (mood, satisfaction with life) and negative (neuroticism, anxiety,
depression) indicators of well-being. SEM reveals that meaningfulness predicts positive well-being, but is not
predictive of negative well-being. Crisis of meaning is a strong predictor for both positive and negative well-being.
Keywords: meaning in life; meaningfulness; crisis of meaning; purpose in life; scale construction; SoMe;
existentialism; well-being
Introduction
Not only with the establishment of positive psychology
have relationships between meaning in life and well-
being been investigated. Viktor Frankl posited a
universal will to meaning, assuming that it is the basic
interest of individuals to find meaning in life. He also
claimed that a frustration of this will to meaning can
result in symptoms and problems similar to those of
psychological origin (Frankl, 1996). His assumptions
have been investigated empirically in numerous studies.
Many researchers employed the Purpose in Life (PIL)
test, which is based on Frankl’s theory and measures
the degree to which an individual experiences purpose
in life (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964). Crumbaugh,
Raphael, and Schrader (1970) found a relationship
of r ¼.52 between PIL and anxiety; PIL
and neuroticism correlated at r ¼.32. Pearson and
Sheffield (1975) employed both the PIL and the Eysenck
Personality Inventory; they published correlations of
r ¼.34/.48 between purpose in life and neuroticism
for men and women. In a study by Harlow, Newcomb,
and Bentler (1986), the PIL showed strong negative
relationships with depression (r ¼.65), self-deroga-
tion (r ¼.71), and suicide ideation (r ¼.55).
Edwards and Holden (2001) report similarly strong
negative correlations between suicide ideation and PIL
(r ¼.53) and Sense of Coherence (SOC) (r ¼.46).
Frankl’s assumption that an absence of meaning in
life is associated with negative well-being or even
pathologic states thus seems to be supported by
empirical data. Various studies also report positive
relationships between meaning (PIL; Fulfillment and
Framework scales of the Life Regard Index, LRI,
and SOC) and measures of well-being (e.g. Debats,
1998; Zika & Chamberlain, 1992). Accordingly, ‘the
main view of the clinical work associating meaning in
life and well-being is that psychopathology may arise
from lack of meaning and, conversely, attainment
of meaning is healing’ (Scannell, Allen, & Burton,
2002, p. 94).
Drawing on Chamberlain (1988), Scannell et al.
emphasize the necessity to link meaning to positive as
well as negative measures of well-being, since ‘positive
and negative components of well-being are influenced
by different factors and are not just opposite ends of a
continuum’ (2002, p. 95). The same should hold for the
two components of meaning in life, meaningfulness and
crisis of meaning. Nevertheless, the most widely used
measures of meaning in life do not distinguish between
both as two dimensions of experience. Meaning
in life is conceived as a continuum from crisis of
meaning to meaningfulness. Due to the conceptual
interdependence of both variables, effects of (1) the
experience of purpose or meaning, (2) the absence of
*Email: tatjana.schnell@uibk.ac.at
ISSN 1743–9760 print/ISSN 1743–9779 online
ß 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17439760903271074
http://www.informaworld.com
meaning, and (3) a frustration of the will to meaning
(a crisis of meaning) cannot be determined.
A second point worth considering is the common
use of bi-polar items or scales because they might
produce artificially high correlations with variables of
negative well-being. Finally, these instruments have
also been criticized for being confounded with positive
and negative affect and satisfaction with life, thus the
aspects of subjective well-being as defined by Diener
(1984). Though criticism has been voiced by many
authors, a qualification of findings regarding the
relationship between meaning in life and subjective
well-being is still due.
The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life
Questionnaire (SoMe; Schnell, 2004, 2009; Schnell
& Becker, 2006, 2007) contains two separate scales to
measure meaningfulness and crisis of meaning, thus
enabling researchers to correlate the absence and
presence of positive as well as negative experiences of
meaning with other psychological variables. Both
scales are conceptualized as uni-polar, avoiding
reverse-coded items. By using relatively narrow cir-
cumscriptions of the experiences of meaningfulness
and crisis of meaning, they can be regarded as
unconfounded ‘pure’ measures. Correlations between
SoMe scales and measures of well-being show sub-
stantial deviations from previous findings; they thus
contribute to a clarification of associations between
qualities of meaning and well-being. Before the SoMe
is introduced, shortfalls of PIL, LRI, and SOC are
explained in detail.
Confounded measures of meaning in life
The measures most often used in research on meaning
in life are the PIL (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964), the
LRI (Debats, 1998), and the SOC (Antonovsky, 1993),
as a whole, or its subscale ‘meaningfulness.’ The
availability of these instruments instigated numerous
studies, even when meaning in life had little acceptance
as a research subject. Each of them presented a new
perspective and thus strongly contributed to the
understanding of meaning in life. All of them show
high internal consistencies.
Notwithstanding, they are confounded with psy-
chological variables such as satisfaction with life,
positive affect, depression, or boredom. The PIL has
often been criticised (Dufton & Perlman, 1986; Dyck,
1987; Mascaro & Rosen, 2005; Mascaro, Rosen,
& Morey, 2004; Schnell & Becker, 2006; Steger,
Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006). It is known to be
confounded with both depression and satisfaction with
life. Half of the items of the SOC-subscale ‘mean-
ingfulness’ centre on boredom and indifference to life.
The LRI’s subscale ‘fulfillment’ contains several items
concerned with well-being and (dis-)satisfaction with
life (e.g. ‘I really feel good about my life’; ‘Nothing very
outstanding ever seems to happen to me’). The ‘frame-
work’ subscale overlaps with measures of depression
(‘I just don’t know what I really want to do with my life’;
‘I get completely confused when I try to understand
my life’).
Most of what we know today about relationships
between meaning and well-being is based on studies
employing one of these three measures. Though the
problem of confounding is long-known, a qualification
of flawed results has only just started. If mean-
ingfulness is assumed to be a specific quality of
experience, not exchangeable for interest in life, satis-
faction with life, or absence of depression, a clean
assessment of the construct is needed. ‘Moreover, if
meaning is worth investigating and measuring, it
should not merely be a composite of other personality
constructs, but rather have a degree of specificity and
uniqueness’ (Mascaro et al., 2004, p. 846).
Simultaneous assessment of positive and negative
aspects of meaning in life
Both PIL and SOC use bipolar items. For instance,
the PIL asks for self-ratings regarding boredom vs.
enthusiasm and despair vs. excitement. The SOC
meaningfulness scale requests ratings with regard to
interest vs. routine or boredom vs. satisfaction with
life. The LRI consists of items with positive and
negative content. This is a common strategy in item
construction to reduce effects of acquiescence.
However, recoded negative items do not necessarily
measure the same as positive items. Several analyses of
mixed-item scales have shown that factor structures
represent item phrasing rather than item content
(Benson & Hocevar, 1985; Greenberger, Chen,
Dmitrieva, & Farruggia, 2003; Kelloway, Loughlin,
Barling, & Nault, 2002; Pilotte & Gable, 1990;
Rodebaugh, Woods, & Heimberg, 2007; Wong,
Rindfleisch, & Burroughs, 2003). In many cases,
inclusion of negative items thus adversely affects the
validity of an instrument.
Moreover, as demonstrated by Clark and Watson
(1995), any negative mood term shows high covaria-
tion with neuroticism: ... the inclusion of several such
affect-laden items, in turn, ensures that the resulting
scale regardless of its intended construct will be
primarily a marker of neuroticism’ (p. 8). While this
sharing of common variance is somewhat acceptable
for scales solely measuring negative states of experi-
ence, it creates difficulties when scales are meant to
represent positive frames of mind, as is the case with
the PIL, the SOC, and the LRI. High negative
correlations
found
between PIL, SOC, LRI scales
and negative affect (as in Zika & Chamberlain, 1992)
should thus primarily be interpreted with regard to the
484 T. Schnell
strong relationship between negative states of mood
comprised by the measures of meaning, and negative
affect. Instead, interpretations usually claim that the
experience of meaning in life renders negative affect
unlikely, or vice versa.
Negation and contradiction
PIL and SOC employ bipolar items representing
continua from despair to purpose, etc. They use
grammatical antonymy and assume functional anto-
nymy. As marked by several authors (cf. Riemann,
1990; Wishner, 1960), grammatical antonyms do not
necessarily correspond to psychological opposites.
Furthermore, aggregated scale values indicate a posi-
tion on a continuum of two poles conceived as
mutually excluding each other. High values represent
meaningfulness or purpose, low values stand for a
conglomerate of despair, boredom, emptiness and
crisis of meaning. Assessment of a mere absence of
meaning is only possible through choice of a middle
value, which is difficult to interpret, since it can mean
‘neither X nor Y,’ ‘equiproportionately X and Y,’
‘disproportionately X and Y,’ ‘simultaneously wholly
X and wholly Y’ and many more items (according to
Yorke, 2001, there are 15 possible midpoints of
bi-polar scales).
As Yorke (2001) notes, Blanche
´
’s (1957) analysis
of contraries and contradictions shows the shortfalls of
bipolar scales. Blanche
´
questions the classical design
of opposition as used in bipolar scales and proposes ‘a
six-term logic in which both contraries and contra-
dictions have a third term standing in opposition to
each’ (Yorke, 2001, p. 180). Figure 1 depicts the
six-term notion transferred to the construct of meaning
in life.
‘Meaningfulness’ and ‘No meaningfulness’ are
negating each other, as do ‘Crisis of meaning’ and
‘No crisis of meaning.’ For both contraries, grading
and middle-points are conceivable, as clarified by
Bonfiglioli (2008, p. 110): ‘As well known, the possi-
bility of having a meson, i.e., an intermediate, is
peculiar to some species of contraries, the gradable
ones, and distinguishes contrariety from contradic-
tion.’ ‘Meaningfulness’ and ‘Crisis of meaning’ are
contradictions. There is no gradable transition from
one to the other; both describe different dimensions of
experience. Bipolar scales with contradicting poles
should thus be viewed critically.
The PIL is conceptualized as such a continuum
between contradicting poles. While Crumbaugh and
Maholick describe the PIL as a measure of ‘purpose in
life’ (1964, p. 201), they also aim ‘to measure the
condition of existential frustration described by
Frankl’ (1964, p. 201). The total score’s interpretation
is thus fuzzy, indicating a certain degree of existential
frustration or purpose in life. The SOC comprises a
mixture of bipolar items making use of contradiction
(e.g. interesting versus routine) and negation (e.g. no
goals versus clear goals), but no distinction is made
between the two when calculating the total score which
usually is interpreted as indication of the degree of
absence or presence of meaningfulness, thus drawing
on the principle of negation.
In the LRI, negative items are phrased as negations
as well as contradictions to positive items. None of the
three questionnaires thus differentiates between nega-
tion and contradiction. Though prone to misinterpre-
tation, continua between contradicting constructs are
employed. Therefore, none of the instruments allows
for a clear distinction of the six states of meaning in life
displayed above.
The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life
Questionnaire (SoMe)
Theoretical background: A hierarchic model of
meaning
The theoretical conceptualization of the SoMe draws
on a hierarchic model of meaning (Schnell, 2004, 2009;
Schnell & Becker, 2007; see Figure 2) based on action
theory. It comprises five levels of increasing complexity
and abstractness, from perception to the experience of
meaning in life. As demonstrated by different research
programs, the five levels are interconnected. On each of
the levels, meaning-making processes occur. They
entail the integration of objects, actions, or events
into a larger context, thus creating coherence (cf. Reker
& Wong, 1988). Higher levels provide the integrative
framework for lower levels.
Perception is based on complex neuronal interpre-
tation of sensory stimuli. Only by integration into
No crisis of meaning
Crisis of meaning Meaningfulness
No meaningfulness
Neither meaningfulness,
nor crisis of meanin
g
Some meaningfulness,
some crisis of meaning
Figure 1. Six-term notion of meaning in life. Triangles:
contradictions; broken lines: contraries.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 485
existing schemes they gain significance: ‘Meaning is
constituted by the receiver’ (Roth, 1998, p. 107; transl.
by TS). According to Prinz (2000), perception, action
and goal attainment are inherently connected through
the principle of common coding. The presence of a
stimulus activates the generation of a perceptional code.
This, in turn, activates an action code that combines a
goal code with a motoric code. The interpretation of a
stimulus is thus commensurable with the instigation of
an action and the pursuit of a certain goal. The
inherent purpose of an action is the pursuit of the
simultaneously activated goal.
A goal is commonly understood as a ‘desirable
future state of affairs one intends to attain through
action’ (Kruglanski, 1996, p. 613). Goals are con-
sciously accessible (Emmons, 2005), though goal set-
ting can also be unconsciously generated (Bargh &
Barndollar, 1996). The pursuit of goals implies an
orientation toward the future in the sense of a
‘behavioral movement toward identifiable endpoints’
(Emmons, 2005, p. 732). Goals have been termed
‘middle-level’ units of personality analysis (Buss &
Cantor, 1989) because ‘they are typically at a middle-
level of abstraction in a structural hierarchy, can be
concretized with reference to specific activities and
situations, and can be generalized with reference to
higher-order themes and meanings in life’ (Emmons,
1996, p. 314).
Goals are often seen at the core of meaning in life.
As Emmons notes, ‘some have argued that the
construct of ‘‘meaning’’ has no meaning outside of a
person’s goals and purposes, that is, what a person is
trying to do’ (2005, p. 734). He claims that ‘goals are
the concretized expression of future orientation and life
purpose’ (Emmons, 2005, p. 733). While Emmons
equates goals and life purpose, Ryan and Deci (2004)
argue that only intrinsic goals relate to a sense of
meaning and a greater sense of purpose in life.
Ebersole and Quiring (1991) even object to the
association of goals and meaning. They agree with
Yalom (1980) who deemed the belief that life is
incomplete without goal fulfillment a ‘Western myth,
a cultural artifact’ (p. 470).
Instead of focusing on goal pursuit and attainment
alone, integration between goals and other aspects of
personality is a more adequate predictor of overall life
purpose, as stressed by Emmons (1996):
Meaning comes from involvement in personally ful-
filling goals, the integration of these goals into a
coherent self-system, and the integration of these goals
into a broader social system ...Goal attainment per se
will not lead to subjectively satisfying long-term states
unless these goals are intrinsically meaningful and
integrated within an overall structure of the individual
in his or her social context (p. 333).
Sheldon and Kasser (1994) emphasize the importance
of integrating goals into personality. They consider
two components of integration, coherence and con-
gruence. Congruence is achieved when goals are chosen
by the individual and concur with the basic needs of
autonomy and relatedness (cf. Deci & Ryan, 1991).
Vertical coherence ties in with the assumption of the
hierarchic model of meaning: it refers to goals that
contribute to more distal or higher level goals;
analogously, they should also concur with the even
more general sources of meaning.
Sources of meaning, as measured by the SoMe,
were empirically identified as ultimate meanings
(cf. Leontiev, 2007), underlying human cognition,
behavior and emotion (Schnell, 2004, 2009). They
are basic orientations; they motivate commitment to
and direction of action in different areas of life
Figure 2. The hierarchic model of meaning.
486 T. Schnell
(Leontiev, 1982). Due to their generalized and rela-
tively stable character (see Development), sources of
meaning may be considered a component of person-
ality. As individual configurations, they are com-
parable to Leontiev’s concept of worldview, defined
as ‘a more or less coherent system of general under-
standings about how human beings, society, and the
world at large exist and function’ (2007, p. 245),
including ideals of the desirable human being, society,
and world that are worthy of personal commitment.
Like worldview, sources of meaning are accessible
to consciousness and can be reflected upon. For most
of the time though, they are pre-conscious. By provid-
ing a direction for ‘invested, committed living’ (Ryff
& Singer, 1998, p. 8), they enable a meaningful
structuring of life without explicitly striving for
meaningfulness.
Meaning in life represents the most abstract and
complex level of the model. It emerges from a global
evaluation of life. Two dimensions of meaning in life
can be distinguished: the (positive) experience of
meaningfulness, and the (negative) experience of a
crisis of meaning. Both are conceived as having an
affective, cognitive, and motivational component
(Reker & Wong, 1988; Wong, 1998). Nevertheless,
findings from research on the independence of positive
and negative affect (cf. Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994;
Diener & Emmons, 1984; Schimmack, 2001) seem
applicable to them. Accordingly, meaningfulness and
crisis of meaning are viewed as (relatively) independent
dimensions. Thus, variation in one can occur without
reciprocal variation in the other. This type of indepen-
dence is called ‘discriminant validity’ by Schimmack
(2003), or ‘uncoupled activation’ by Cacioppo and
Berntson (1994).
Meaningfulness is defined as a fundamental sense
of meaning, based on an appraisal of one’s life as
coherent, significant, directed, and belonging. A judg-
ment on one’s life as frustratingly empty, pointless and
lacking meaning amounts to a crisis of meaning.
Meaningfulness is understood as a basic trust, uncon-
sciously shaping perception, action, and goal striving.
Crises of meaning, in contrast, are usually experienced
consciously. They are triggered by a violation of a
sense of coherence and continuity, caused by critical
life-events, personally relevant failure, biological
threats, ego threats, or disorganization of psycholog-
ical operations (Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Schmitz, 2005).
Because they are highly salient, crises of meaning are
usually followed by a search for meaning (cf.
Baumeister, 1991; Klinger, 1998; Skaggs & Barron,
2006). Crises of meaning should thus be less stable than
meaningfulness, as they vanish after a successful search
for meaning. While sources of meaning significantly
predict both meaningfulness and crisis of meaning,
they cannot fully account for them.
The questionnaire
The SoMe (German edition: Lebe, Schnell, 2004, 2009;
Schnell & Becker, 2006, 2007) is a 151 item inventory.
It allows for a highly differentiated measurement of 26
sources of meaning, and it provides a clean assessment
of both meaningfulness and crisis of meaning.
Development
The sources of meaning assessed by the SoMe were
identified in a large qualitative research program (see
Schnell, 2004, 2009). In structured in-depth interviews,
a laddering technique (cf. Leontiev, 2007; Neimeyer,
1993) was employed to identify ultimate meanings
underlying the contents of existentially relevant cogni-
tion (‘personal myth’), action (‘personal rituals’), and
emotion (‘experiences of transcending’). ‘Laddering’
was applied to all contents mentioned by the inter-
viewees; they were repeatedly asked about the contents’
meaning until an ultimate meaning was brought up
that was not reducible to other meanings. After several
cyclical processes of content analysis, carried out by a
team of researchers, 26 ultimate meanings (the sources
of meaning) remained (see Table 1). Regarding their
basic character, sources of meaning can be compared
to Deci and Ryan’s intrinsic values . Intrinsic values are
not reducible to other values, and they do not exist for
the sake of other values (Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008).
While intrinsic values have a normative character,
implying an ‘ought,’ an aspired state, sources of
meaning actually are in use; they represent ‘values
put to action’ (Schnell, 2009).
Items for the 26 sources of meaning, the mean-
ingfulness and crisis of meaning scales were examined
and improved in several versions of the SoMe,
resulting in the present final version. Its statements
are rated on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 5
(strongly agree). Internal consistencies range from
.83–.93 for the dimensions (M ¼ .89), and .65–.95 for
the scales (M ¼ .79, see Table 1; these and following
values were derived by the German version of the
SoMe: LeBe, representative sample, N ¼ 603). Sources
of meaning, meaningfulness and crisis of meaning
show a high short-term stability; 2-month test-retest
stability coefficients average .81 for the scales, .90
for the dimensions. Stability of sources of meaning
and meaningfulness is still high after an interval of
6 months (.72 for the scales, .78 for the dimensions);
for crisis of meaning, it is .48.
The SoMe’s construct, content, discriminant, fac-
torial, and incremental validity have been demon-
strated in numerous studies (Gapp & Schnell, 2008;
Hoof & Schnell, 2009; Imruck, 2009; Schnell, 2004,
2008, 2009, in press; Schnell & Becker, 2006, 2007).
Sources of meaning scales quantify the degree of
realization for each of the 26 orientations. Orthogonal
as well as oblique factor analyses suggest a summary of
The Journal of Positive Psychology 487
these by four dimensions. Supported by factor-
analyses of its items, the first dimension is divided
into two sub-dimensions for further differentiation:
(1) Selftranscendence: Commitment to objectives
beyond one’s immediate needs.
(1a) Vertical selftranscendence: Orientation towards
an immaterial, cosmic power;
(1b) Horizontal selftranscendence: Taking responsi-
bility for (worldly) affairs beyond one’s imme-
diate concerns;
(2) Selfactualization: Employing, challenging, and
fostering one’s capacities;
(3) Order: Holding on to values, practicality,
decency, and the tried and tested;
(4) Well-being and relatedness: Cultivating and
enjoying life’s pleasures in privacy and company.
(As factor analyses repeatedly showed, these two
aspects of caring for oneself and caring for
others are closely linked to each other. This
might suggest that relatedness serves hedonic
needs. The dimension might also be seen as
representing a realization of ‘loving one’s neigh-
bor as oneself.’)
The SoMe dimensions cover the four categories of
meaningful experience identified by Emmons (2003).
Drawing on different research programs on per-
sonal meaning (Ebersole, 1998; Emmons, 1999;
Wong, 1998), Emmons sees the following factors
emerging: achievement/work, relationships/intimacy,
religion/spirituality, and self-transcendence/generativ-
ity. Achievement is a subscale of selfactualization;
relationships/intimacy are represented by community
and love, two subscales of well-being and relatedness;
religion/spirituality make up the SoMe dimension
vertical selftranscendence, and generativity is a subscale
of horizontal selftranscendence . It can thus be con-
cluded that the SoMe dimensions not only capture
these major categories of meaning, but represent them
in a more comprehensive and differentiated way. This
might be attributed to the method of identifying
meaningful experiences used by Schnell (2004, 2009)
in contrast to those used by the research programs
Emmons refers to. While the latter relied on conscious
notions of meaningful experiences (questions about
meaningful life, ratings of sources of meaning, etc.),
Schnell and colleagues used a laddering technique (see
Development) to identify implicit sources of meaning.
Therefore, the categories named by Emmons (2003)
only cover the most obvious sources of meaning,
highly valued by society and thus coming to mind
easily: work, relationships, religion/spirituality, and
contributing to society.
The meaningfulness scale measures the degree of
subjectively experienced meaningfulness. Items para-
phrase complementary facets of its definition; they
read:
. I think that there is meaning in what I do.
. I have a task in life.
. I feel part of a bigger whole.
. I lead a fulfilled life.
. I think my life has a deeper meaning.
With crisis of meaning, the degree of emptiness and
a frustrated will to meaning are assessed:
. When I think about the meaning of my life
I find only emptiness.
. My life seems meaningless.
. I don’t see any sense in life.
. I suffer from the fact that I don’t see any point
in life.
. My life seems empty.
By means of these two scales, all six conceivable
states of meaning can be differentiated (see Figure 1)
and types of
meaning can be composed (Schnell,
in press). Apart from the German and English
versions, a Russian, Spanish, and Czech version exist.
Table 1. SoMe scales and dimensions, with internal
consistencies (N ¼ 603).
Scale/Dimension Internal consistency ()
Meaningfulness .74
Crisis of meaning .92
Selftranscendence .89
Vertical selftranscendence .84
Explicit religiosity .94
Spirituality .68
Horizontal selftranscendence .87
Social commitment .65
Unison with nature .88
Self-knowledge .87
Health .86
Generativity .76
Selfactualization .93
Challenge .76
Individualism .68
Power .68
Development .81
Achievement .76
Freedom .91
Knowledge .69
Creativity .85
Order .89
Tradition .79
Practicality .76
Morality .71
Reason .68
Well-being and relatedness .91
Community .77
Fun .71
Love .75
Comfort .75
Care .70
Attentiveness .69
Harmony .85
488 T. Schnell
The German version was standardized by a represen-
tative sample of N ¼ 603, which is used in the present
study. Correlations with demographic variables thus
have a strong external validity and will be reported
below. They will especially add to the clarification of
the relationships between meaning in life, gender and
age, which have not been convincingly determined, so
far (Scannell et al., 2002). The distinction of mean-
ingfulness and crisis of meaning should also offer
additional information regarding this question. In
Study 2, relationships between SoMe variables and
measures of well-being, based on a different sample,
will be described. They present a qualification of
previous findings regarding the role of the experience
of meaning, its absence, or a suffering from a lack of
meaning, for positive and negative well-being.
Study 1: Correlations of meaningfulness, crisis of
meaning, and sources of meaning, with demographic
variables
Method
Subjects
The SoMe was completed by a representative German
sample (N ¼ 616). Distribution of sex, age, and place of
residence were analogous to that in the total popula-
tion. The number of people to be contacted in different
parts of the country was determined in accordance
with official population statistics (Statistisches
Bundesamt, 2005). Individual participants were ran-
domly selected. They were informed of the study and
asked to contribute by telephone. The questionnaire
and a self-addressed envelope were then sent to those
who agreed to cooperate. The return rate was 67%.
After eliminating incomplete records and excluding
multivariate outliers, 603 datasets remained. A total of
53% of the respondents were female. Age ranged from
16 to 85 years (M ¼ 45, SD ¼ 17); 15% were single,
18% lived with a partner, 55% were married. One fifth
of the respondents only had general education; 25%
had obtained O-levels (about 18–19 years of age), 17%
A-levels (about 16 years of age). Thirty-eight percent
had graduated from technical college or university.
Measures
The German version of the SoMe was used to measure
meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and 26 sources of
meaning.
Results
Table 2 displays intercorrelations of the SoMe variables
and correlations with demographic variables. Due
to positive skewness and high kurtosis (2.19/4.63),
the crisis of meaning scale was transformed
(inverted) for correlational analyses (Tabachnick &
Fidell, 2007; skewness and kurtosis after trans-
formation ¼ 0.60/1.25). Meaningfulness and crisis of
meaning prove to be relatively independent of each
other (r ¼0.38). A principal components analysis,
performed on the 10 items constituting both scales,
results in the extraction of two factors with eigenvalues
greater than 1. After Varimax as well as oblique
rotation, nine items show high loadings on their
respective factor, and loadings 50.15 on the other
factor. One item (‘I lead a fulfilled life’) loads on
both factors.
The distinction of meaningfulness and crisis of
meaning is also supported by confirmatory factor
analysis comparing a one-dimension to the two-
dimension model. As shown in Table 3,
2
is significant
for both models, but the appropriateness of hypothesis
testing in model fitting is routinely questioned (cf.
Bollen & Long, 1993; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007).
Only the two-dimension model achieves acceptable to
good fit, as indicated by the TLI and CFI. The
RMSEA amounts to 0.08, thus signifying an adequate
fit (Bollen & Long, 1993; Hu & Bentler, 1999).
Comparison of the Akaike information criterion also
suggests a better fit of the two-dimension model.
Table 2. Intercorrelation of SoMe scales, correlations and R
2
with sex (1 ¼ male, 2 ¼ female), age (in years), and education
(seven levels: 1 ¼ less than 10 years of school to 7 ¼ university degree); N ¼ 603.
Scale/dimension (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Sex
m/1,f/2
r
Age
r
Education
Sex, Age,
Education
R
2
Meaningfulness (1) .09 .20 .05 .05
Crisis of meaning* (2) Z.38 .02 .08 .06 .01
Selftranscendence vertical (3) .48 .03 .16 .14 Z.20 .08
Selftranscendence horizontal (4) .62 Z.11 .43 .05 .26 .04 .08
Selfactualization (5) .39 .08 .08 .51 Z.17 .03 .14 .04
Order (6) .34 Z.09 .27 .31 .14 .04 .36 Z.32 .20
Well-being and relatedness .49 Z.17 .29 .50 .45 .40 .22 .02 Z.15 .08
Note: *scale transformed (inverse) due to non-normality; ¼ Spearman rho; bold: significant ( p .05, two-sided).
The Journal of Positive Psychology 489
Meaningfulness is negligibly higher among women.
It slightly increases with age (see Table 2). Curve
estimation indicates that this function is best described
as linear; non-linear patterns, as assumed by Frankl
(1996), were not detected. Meaningfulness is lowest in
adolescence, rising until the age of 35; it is quite stable
from 35 to about 45 and then increases again until 60,
where it reaches (and maintains) a high level.
Education is not associated with the degree of expe-
rienced meaning. As regards crisis of meaning, no
correlations with sex, age, or education were found.
A Mancova (adjusted for sex and age) explored
differences in meaningfulness and crisis of meaning
between six marital statuses: single, living with a
partner, married, married but living apart, divorced,
widowed. It is significant with F(10,1166) ¼ 3.06,
p ¼ .001,
2
¼ .03. Both meaningfulness (
2
¼ .03) and
crisis of meaning (
2
¼ .04) show significant between-
subject effects.
Figure 3a presents estimated means of meaningful-
ness for each of the marital statuses. It is particularly
high among married persons; according to post-hoc
tests (Scheffe
´
), they report significantly higher mean-
ingfulness than singles and individuals living with a
partner. Figure 3b presents the percentage of indivi-
duals of each marital status suffering from a crisis of
meaning (i.e. above average agreement to the scale’s
items; scale value 2.5, range 0–5). Most crises of
meaning are reported by singles (11%), followed by
divorced persons (9%) and unmarried individuals with
a partner (9%). Among married couples, crises of
meaning are very rare (3%).
The five dimensions of meaning show small to
moderate covariation with demographic variables (see
Table 2). More than men, women orient themselves by
vertical selftranscendence (further analyses on scale
level show both explicit religiosity and spirituality to
differ), as well as by well-being and relatedness (all
associated scales). Selfactualization is more realized by
men than by women (all scales but creativity and
individualism). Order as well as horizontal and vertical
selftranscendence increase with age (all scales but self-
knowledge and spirituality). Education shows small
positive correlations with horizontal selftranscendence
(social commitment, self-knowledge) and selfactualiza-
tion (knowledge, development, power). It correlates
negatively with well-being and relatedness (harmony,
fun, care, love), vertical selftranscendence and order (all
scales of both). Using all three demographic variables
as predictors, a substantial amount of variance (20%)
can be explained in order; all other dimensions of
meaning are more independent of demographic attri-
butes, with 4–8% of variance explained.
After adjustment for sex and age, a Mancova shows
the five dimensions of meaning to differ significantly
between marital statuses, though the effect is small
(F(25, 2156) ¼ 2.17, p ¼ .001,
2
¼ .02; see Figure 4).
Effects concern vertical selftranscendence (
2
¼ .02,
significant only for explicit religiosity) and order
(
2
¼ .02; all scales significant). Married individuals
attribute more significance to explicit religiosity than
individuals living with a partner. They also orient
themselves more by order than singles and those living
with a partner. Widowed persons give particular
importance to order (more than singles, people living
with a partner, and married persons living apart).
Study 2: Correlations of meaningfulness, crisis of
meaning, and sources of meaning with well-being
The aim of the second study is to qualify findings of
studies that employed the above-mentioned criticized
measures for investigations into the relation between
meaning in life and well-being. Because most of these
studies focused on aspects of subjective (hedonic) well-
being as conceived by Diener (1984), hence satisfaction
with life and positive and negative affect, these were
also examined in the present study. In contrast to the
PIL, LRI, or SOC, the SoMe allows for analyses of
correlation between absence and presence of mean-
ingfulness with well-being on one side, and absence and
presence of a crisis of meaning with well-being on the
other side. The increased differentiation of operatio-
nalization is supposed to provide additional insights
into the relationship between meaning in life and well-
being. The following hypotheses are tested:
Hypotheses
(1) Meaningfulness and crisis of meaning are not
confounded with positive or negative aspects of
well-being. Correlations should not exceed
0.70, indicating less than 50% of overlapping.
Table 3. Fit indices for a one-dimension and a two-dimension model of crisis of meaning and
meaningfulness, tested via CFA.
2
df p TLI CFI RMSEA AIC
One-dimension model 475.20 35 .000 .80 .84 .15 535.20
Two-dimension model 158.57 34 .000 .94 .96 .08 220.57
Note: TLI ¼ Tucker-Lewis index; CFI ¼ comparative fit index; RMSEA ¼ root mean square
error of approximation; AIC ¼ Akaike information criterion.
490 T. Schnell
(2) Meaningfulness is a positive experience; its
presence should be associated with positive
well-being (Zika & Chamberlain, 1992).
(3) Correlations between meaningfulness and neg-
ative well-being should be low. It cannot be
assumed that low levels of meaningfulness imply
high levels of negative well-being, because
a mere absence of meaningfulness is not a state
of suffering (as is crisis of meaning). Vice versa,
a high degree of meaningfulness does not imply
the absence of negative affect. Experiences of
meaning should also be possible for people with
a depressive or anxious outlook on life.
(4) In contrast, correlations of crisis of meaning
and negative well-being should be strong: the
negative experience of a crisis of meaning is
expected to make the occurrence of other
negative affects more likely, and vice versa.
(5) Because it is experienced consciously (see
hierarchic model of meaning), a crisis of mean-
ing is expected to influence well-being more than
meaningfulness does. Its presence should thus
Figure 3. (a) Estimated means of meaningfulness adjusted for sex and age, and (b) percentage of individuals suffering from a
crisis of meaning in different marital statuses.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 491
make the experience of positive affect less
probable.
By means of explorative analysis, relationships
between the five dimensions of meaning and positive
and negative measures of well-being are investigated.
Method
Measures
Meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and dimensions of
meaning were assessed by the German version of the
SoMe. Cronbach alphas were .78 for meaningfulness,
.92 for crisis of meaning, .84–.93 for the dimensions of
meaning.
Negative affect: Neuroticism, depression, anxiety. The
revised NEO-Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae,
1992; German version: Ostendorf & Angleitner, 2003)
was used to measure negative aspects of well-being:
neuroticism and its facets depression and anxiety.
Internal consistencies were .92 for neuroticism, .82 for
depression and .84 for anxiety.
Positive affect and satisfaction with life. The Trait
Well-Being Inventory (HSWBS; Dalbert, 1992)
assesses two aspects of subjective well-being: level of
positive mood, and general satisfaction with life. It uses
13 items rated on a six-point scale of agreement. The
mood scale had an internal consistency of .89, the
satisfaction with life scale an alpha of .87.
Procedures
Correlation analyses were employed to examine the
amount of shared variance between meaningfulness,
crisis of meaning, and positive and negative aspects
of well-being. Via structural equation modeling
Figure 4. Estimated means of the five dimensions of meaning for marital statuses, adjusted for sex and age.
492 T. Schnell
(with SPSS/AMOS), hypothesized relationships
between meaningfulness, crisis of meaning, and
positive and negative measures of well-being were
analyzed. Further correlation analyses explored
relationships between the five dimensions of meaning
and well-being.
Subjects
Respondents were 135 psychology students, 85% of
them female. Age ranged from 18 to 45 years (M ¼ 21,
SD ¼ 4). About one third (36%) lived with a partner or
were married, 64% were single.
Results
Correlations between meaningfulness, crisis of mean-
ing, and indicators of positive and negative measures
of well-being are displayed in Table 4. Intercorrelation
of meaningfulness and crisis of meaning is comparable
to that in the representative sample (r ¼.35). As
expected in hypothesis 1, none of the correlations
of meaningfulness and crisis of meaning with positive
and negative aspects of well-being exceeds an r of .70.
The correlations’ average only amounts to a mean r
of .43 (via Fisher-z).
Hypotheses two to five are supported by the
structural equation model shown in Figure 5. The
model examined meaningfulness and crisis of meaning
as predictors of positive and negative well-being.
Positive well-being was represented by a latent variable
with the two indicators positive mood and satisfaction
with life; negative well-being was represented by a
latent variable with the two indicators depression
and anxiety. The model fits the data well (x
2
5
¼ 5.22;
p ¼ .39; CFI ¼ .999, TLI ¼ .998, RMSEA ¼ .018).
Meaningfulness significantly predicts positive well-
being (HS2), and it does not contribute to the pre-
diction of negative well-being (HS3). Crisis of meaning
is a significant predictor of negative well-being (HS4)
as well as positive well-being (HS5).
Almost half (48%) of the variance in positive well-
being, and 42% of the variance in negative well-being
were accounted for by the two meaning in life scales.
.77
Positive mood
.75
Satisfaction with life
Meaningfulness
Crisis of meaning
.43
Anxiety
.99
Depression
.48
Positive
well-being
.42
Negative
well-being
r1
r2
r3
r4
r5
r6
–.61
.64
.26
.66
–.56
–.01
–.35
1.00
.88
.87
Figure 5. Prediction of positive and negative well-being by meaningfulness and crisis of meaning: Final model.
Table 4. Correlations of meaningfulness and crisis of mean-
ing with positive and negative aspects of well-being.
Meaningfulness
Crisis of
meaning
Crisis of meaning (transf.*) Z.35
(Positive) Mood level .36 Z.59
Satisfaction with life .44 Z.55
Neuroticism Z.23 .53
Anxiety Z.12 .42
Depression Z.24 .64
Note: bold: significant ( p .01). * ¼ transformed (inverted)
due to positive skewness.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 493
An exploration of relationships between the five
dimensions of meaning and well-being shows positive
correlations between dimensions of meaning and
positive aspects of well-being, but no correlations
with neuroticism or its facets anxiety or depression (see
Table 5). Well-being and relatedness, order , and vertical
selftranscendence relate to satisfaction with life; addi-
tionally, well-being and relatedness and vertical self-
transcendence covary with a positive mood level. When
all five dimensions of meaning are entered into a
simultaneous regression analysis to predict satisfaction
with life, 12% of variance are explained ( p ¼ .004).
This is predominantly attributable to the influence of
well-being and relatedness ( ¼ .25, p ¼ .01). As much as
22% of variance in positive mood are explained by the
five dimensions. Well-being and relatedness ( ¼ .41,
p 5 .001) and vertical selftranscendence ( ¼ .23,
p ¼ .01) positively predict positive mood, while hori-
zontal selftranscendence is a negative predictor
( ¼.27, p ¼ .009).
Discussion
Measurement problems
As was described and exemplified, research on mean-
ing suffers from measurement problems of three kinds.
First is the use of overly broad measures, containing
items that tap other psychological variables, such as
positive and negative mood and satisfaction with life.
As a consequence, correlations with these measures are
artificially increased. Furthermore, meaning scales are
either conceptualized as bi-polar, or they contain
reverse-coded items. This results in artificially
increased relationships of positive aspects of meaning
in life and negative measures of well-being. Moreover,
the one-dimensional assessment of meaning was
criticized, because meaningfulness and crisis of mean-
ing are better conceived as two distinct dimensions
with uncoupled activation (Cacioppo & Berntson,
1994). One-dimensional measurement ignores this
complexity and makes a separate evaluation of differ-
ent qualities of meaning impossible.
The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in
Life Questionnaire (SoMe; Schnell & Becker, 2007)
was introduced as an instrument not suffering
from these limitations. It contains two separate, uni-
polar, and unconfounded measures of meaningfulness
and crisis of meaning. The necessity of the distinction
between meaningfulness and crisis of meaning as two
dimensions is evident from their relatively low empir-
ical correlation (here: r ¼.38 and r ¼.35), as well as
from results of explorative and confirmatory factor
analyses. Variation in one is not associated with
reciprocal variation in the other. Empirical data thus
support the claim that meaningfulness and crisis
of meaning should not be conceptualized as two
poles of a continuum. Referring to two different
dimensions of experience, they represent contradiction,
not contrariety.
Relationships of meaning in life with demographic
variables
The SoMe was used to analyze correlations of mean-
ingfulness, crisis of meaning, and sources of meaning
with several demographic variables. With a represen-
tative sample at hand, the results can be ascribed high
external validity. Relationships between meaning in
life and gender have yielded contradictory results in
previous research. Some reported higher meaning
scores for men (e.g. Crumbaugh, 1968; Orbach et al.,
1987); others did not find any differences (e.g. Debats,
1999; Harlow et al., 1986; Scannell et al., 2002; Steger
et al., 2006). In the present sample, no gender
differences were found for crisis of meaning. For
meaningfulness, a significant, but negligible correlation
showed slightly higher scores in women.
The results were clearer for age effects. Also here,
contradicting findings are reported in the literature.
Some studies found no age differences in meaning
scores (e.g. Debats, 1998; Reker, Peacock, & Wong,
1987),
others
came across increasing scores with age
(e.g. Meier & Edwards, 1974; Reker & Fry, 2003;
Steger et al., 2006; Van Ranst & Marcoen, 1997). In
the present study, no age effect was detected for crisis
of meaning. However, there is a small increase of
meaningfulness with age. As determined by curve
estimation, it is best described by a linear function.
Meaningfulness is lowest for individuals under
35 (M ¼ 2.92, SD ¼ 0.87) and highest for those over
Table 5. Correlations of the five dimensions of meaning with positive and negative aspects of well-being.
Selftranscendence
vertical
Selftranscendence
horizontal Selfactualization Order
Well-being and
relatedness
(Positive) Mood level .23 .04 .02 .14 .38
Satisfaction with life .18 .07 .10 .22 .31
Neuroticism .14 .05 .13 .14 .10
Anxiety .09 .01 .13 .06 .09
Depression .11 .09 .01 .08 .11
Note: bold: significant ( p .05).
494 T. Schnell
60 (M ¼ 3.36, SD ¼ 0.98). For the middle-aged, the
mean score is 3.13 (SD ¼ 0.89). The results tie in well
with theoretical assumptions. A crisis of meaning is
supposed to occur after a violation of one’s sense of
coherence and continuity. This can be caused at any
time of life, triggered by psychological, social, or
environmental processes. The trust that one’s life is
meaningful is derived from an appraisal of life as
coherent, significant, directed, and belonging. The
recognition of such characteristics, though possible at
any time of life, is likely to benefit from a broader
knowledge of self and world, as it develops with age.
The same interpretation might be applied to findings
yielded by Steger et al. (2006). Though their data
comes from a student sample with reduced variation in
age, they also found no age effect for ‘search for
meaning,’ but comparable positive correlations
between age and ‘presence of meaning.’
The degree of experienced meaningfulness also
differs significantly with marital status. It is highest
for married people; individuals living with a partner
without being married report significantly lower mean-
ingfulness. This might be based on the confirmation of
belonging through official marriage, the availability of
direction through the aim of building a home and
raising children, and the experience of significance
through responsibility for children.
Also crisis of meaning scores differ significantly
between marital statuses.As a comparison of percent-
age of individuals in each marital status suffering from
a crisis of meaning indicates, it is most common in
singles. Again, married people stand out: they report
significantly lower values than singles. The results thus
point out the importance of family and partnership as
buffers against crises of meaning, while being married
is related more strongly to meaningfulness than living
in an intimate relationship.
Sources of meaning
Sex, age, and education explain from 4% to 20% of the
dimensions’ variance. Women attribute slightly more
importance to vertical selftranscendence, as is also
reported by many studies in the psychology of religion
(cf. Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003).
More than men, women value well-being and
relatedness. For men, selfactualization has a slightly
stronger relevance than for women. Thus, the long-
standing distinction of female communion and
male agency (Bakan, 1966) can still be glimpsed in
(post-)modern times.
Horizontal selftranscendence scores correlate posi-
tively with age. In accordance with that, life-span
theories claim that selftranscendence is a developmen-
tal stage often entered in mid-life or later, after more
egocentric needs have been fulfilled (Erikson, 1982;
Maslow, 1970). Vertical selftranscendence shows a very
small correlation with age. Analyses on scale level
detect a correlation of r ¼ .23 for explicit religiosity, but
no significant coefficient for spirituality. Institutional
religiosity is known to be more common among older
than among younger people in Europe; it can be
interpreted as a cohort effect (Hoellinger, 2005). This
effect does not apply to spirituality.
The importance of order increasing with age can
also be explained as a cohort effect: present-day elderly
were socialized in an environment that highly valued
tradition, reason, practicality and morality (sources of
meaning belonging to the dimension of order).
Alternatively, higher scores of these sources of mean-
ing among older individuals could be seen as a
compensation of a decrease in spontaneity and flexi-
bility occurring with age.
Sources of meaning also differ with duration of
schooling. The higher the school-leaving exams, the
less significance is given to order. Tradition, morality,
practicality, and reason thus become less relevant, the
more educated someone is. Given norms and values are
likely to be doubted by those who are taught to analyze
and question. Practicality is of less relevance to those
who confront life mainly intellectually. The devalua-
tion of reason among the more educated is rather less
obvious. Less schooled people claim that decisions
should only be made rationally, not intuitively; they
trust that ‘reason is the measure of all things’ (items
from reason scale). Their confidence in the validity of
reason is thus stronger than among those individuals
who are more trained in using and applying it.
Education also correlates negatively with vertical
selftranscendence (explicit religiosity and spirituality).
The effect is small but in line with the (generally
dismissed; cf. Hood et al., 2003) thesis of seculariza-
tion, positing that the more we know about the world,
the less credible is the idea of a super-natural power.
Dimensions of meaning differed also with regard to
marital status. Unmarried partners could be distin-
guished from married partners and singles regarding
vertical selftranscendence. Average ratings of explicit
religiosity among unmarried partners significantly fell
below that of married partners (M ¼ 1.10, SD ¼ 1.23
vs. M ¼ 2.22, SD ¼ 1.66), and
also below that of singles
(M ¼ 1.95, SD ¼ 1.71). A decision for cohabitation and
against marriage thus seems to be rooted in an a-
religious worldview. Just like widowed individuals,
married persons are also more traditional, practical,
rational, and principled (order) than singles and
unmarried partners, which might be the result of an
interaction of personality as well as environmental
factors. The link between marital status and existential
orientation is hence underlined, again.
Meaning in life and well-being
In order to qualify previous findings regarding
relationships between meaning in life and well-being,
The Journal of Positive Psychology 495
Study 2 was undertaken. The SoMe was correlated
with negative and positive indicators of well-being. As
expected, correlations are lower than those generally
reported in the literature. None of them exceeds an r of
.70, thus supporting the claim of ‘pure’ measurement of
meaningfulness and crisis of meaning.
Meaningfulness is moderately related to positive
measures of well-being. The experience of one’s life as
meaningful can contribute to a positive state of mind,
or vice versa (cf. King, Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso,
2006). But, as is evident from the moderate effect sizes,
meaningfulness cannot be equated with hedonic well-
being. A meaningful life is not necessarily cheerful and
free of negative affect; it is better conceived as ‘a life
lived well’ in a eudaimonic sense, as described by Ryan,
Huta, and Deci (2008).
Correlations of meaningfulness with neuroticism,
anxiety, and depression are even much lower.
As revealed by a structural equation model, mean-
ingfulness is no significant (negative) predictor of
negative well-being. This contradicts many published
findings. The result is attributed to the separate and
clean measurement of a positive and a negative dimen-
sion of meaning in life. Furthermore, the meaningful-
ness scale contains neither reverse-coded nor bi-polar
items. It hence does not tap negative affect which would
per se ensure an association with negative well-being.
The established assumption that meaningfulness
has a protective or healing effect is thus being
challenged by the data, at least as the two indicators
of negative well-being used in the present study are
concerned. The experience of meaningfulness does not
exclude simultaneous (trait) depressiveness and (trait)
anxiety. On the other hand, depressiveness and anxiety
do not imply an absence of meaningfulness; meaning
can also be experienced under conditions of emotional
instability. In addition, the absence of meaningfulness
does not necessarily provoke emotional instability such
as depressiveness or anxiety (Schnell, in press).
A crisis of meaning, though, is strongly related to
negative well-being. Individuals who report a crisis of
meaning feel an explicit lack and a yearning for
meaning. Psychologically, this is an experience of
instability, hence likely to provoke anxiety and
depressiveness. But a crisis of meaning can also be
the consequence of a psychological disorder, ‘created by
extended feelings of depression’ (Harlow et al., 1986,
p. 6; see also Schmitz, 2005) or by the disintegration of
one’s existence due to alcohol or other drug abuse (e.g.
Becker & Quinten, 2003).
Apart from its association with negative indicators
of well-being, crisis of meaning also serves as a
negative predictor of positive well-being. An evalua-
tion of one’s life as frustratingly empty and lacking
meaning contradicts an appraisal of one’s life as
satisfying. Similarly, positive feelings seem to be
impaired by the negative appraisal, and ‘it is highly
unlikely that one can feel both positive and negative
affect at the same time, especially at strong levels’
(Diener & Emmons, 1984, p. 1112).
None of the dimensions of meaning is related to
negative indicators of well-being. Some are signifi-
cantly associated with positive mood and/or satisfac-
tion with life. Effects are strongest, though still
moderate, for well-being and relatedness, hence the
dimension of meaning explicitly concerned with the
furthering of personal well-being. Especially for this
relationship, the direction might also be reverse:
individuals who experience a high degree of positive
mood and satisfaction with life are more likely to
commit themselves to sources of meaning such as fun,
harmony,orcommunity. Vertical selftranscendence is
also moderately positively related to mood and satis-
faction with life, while order only correlates positively
with satisfaction with life, the cognitive component of
well-being.
Multiple regression analysis confirms the specific
predictive power of well-being and relatedness for
satisfaction with life. The pursuit of enjoyment and
affiliation represented by this dimension’s sources of
meaning thus contributes more to contentment with
life than selfactualizing or selftranscending sources of
meaning do. Regarding positive mood, as much as
22% of its variance are predicted by the dimensions of
meaning. Here again, well-being and relatedness par-
ticularly adds to the prediction. This supports Ryff and
Singer’s (1998) assumption that ‘loving and being
loved are fundamental ingredients of being well’ (p. 9),
Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter’s (2003) finding that time
spent in company is positively related to happiness,
and Deci and Ryan’s (cf. 2008) claim that relatedness is
a vital component of hedonic (as well as eudaimonic)
well-being.
Positive mood is additionally positively predicted
by vertical selftranscendence. A commitment to religi-
osity and spirituality has already been shown to relate
to higher levels of positive affect, as in goal analyses by
Emmons (cf. 2005) or experience sampling of daily
religious behaviors and daily well-being (Steger
& Frazier, 2005). Interestingly, horizontal selftranscen-
dence emerges as a negative predictor of positive mood.
As scale level analyses reveal, this is only attributable
to self-knowledge. This source of meaning refers to a
search for and reflection upon the ‘true self.’ Schlegel et
al. (2009) report that accessibility of the true self is an
important contributor to well-being; they showed it to
be a potent source of meaning, too. Also the commit-
ment to a search for the true self, as measured by the
SoMe, imbues life with a sense of meaning. However,
positive mood is lowered during this process of
searching, in contrast to the state of true-self accessi-
bility. Altogether, the five dimensions of meaning
explain a rather low percentage of variance in satis-
faction with life and positive mood. Their predictive
496 T. Schnell
power will be increased or lowered in accordance with
the coherence of personal goals and sources of mean-
ing, on the one hand, and congruence of sources
of meaning with personality traits (Schnell & Becker,
2006), external circumstances, etc., on the other
hand (cf. the hierarchic model of meaning as
described above).
Limitations and outlook
The present study challenges several long-held con-
cepts about the measurement of meaning in life and its
relation to well-being. While the validity of the SoMe
has been demonstrated in numerous studies and is also
supported by relations to demographic variables
reported in Study 1, further studies relating it to
other psychological constructs are needed to clarify its
strengths and limitations. Because the SoMe is a broad
measure of sources of meaning, additional instruments
should be employed when more differentiated infor-
mation on specific sources of meaning is needed.
Further research is certainly required for replica-
tion of the low to absent association between mean-
ingfulness and negative well-being. Future studies,
using the SoMe’s meaningfulness and crisis of meaning
scales, should explore the relationship in more heter-
ogeneous samples. Also an exploration of links
between meaningfulness and other indicators of neg-
ative well-being is necessary.
In general, qualification of previous findings gained
by use of confounded measures should continue. A
separate assessment of positive and negative aspects of
meaning in life, as realized by the SoMe, is very
advantageous for this endeavor. It contributes to an
(approximate) acknowledgment of the complexity of
meaning in life.
Acknowledgements
The author wishes to thank Dr. William Keenan, Dr.
Thomas Hoege, Prof. Dr. Suitbert Ertel and the anonymous
reviewers for insightful discussions and helpful comments on
the manuscript.
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Thesis
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In the last 18 years, positive leadership turned into a highly discussed and researched topic within in the research field of positive psychology. Due to the integration of positive psychology into the broad field of the leadership research, positive leadership gained much attention because of its revolutionary implications for practitioners. Positive leadership can be separated into three main directions. First, positive leadership can be seen as a personality model. Second, it can be considered as a model, which focuses on organisational culture. The third, and most important model for the current study combines leadership and Seligman’s Wellbeing Theory, which consists of five dimensions (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment), namely the PERMA-Lead model. Additionally, the current study focuses on employees from the service industries and tourism, therefore Austrian restaurants and hotels from urban and rural regions were investigated. This sample is regarded as highly important, because employees in this sector are at high risk of suffering from work related stress. With regard to previous studies it was shown, that a positive style of leadership significantly influences the health of the employees. Therefore, the current study focuses on the investigation of positive leadership, chronic stress and burnout regarding the service industries and tourism. Additionally, the PERMA-Lead scores of the service industries and tourism are compared to a general employee sample. For the current investigation a total sample of N=103 participants completed a paper-pencil survey. To examine the amount of chronic stress, the Screening Scales for Chronic Stress (SSCS) were utilised. To assess the amount of burnout in the sample, two scales of the Burnout Screening Scales (BOSS) were used. Finally, participants completed a special form of the PERMA-Lead, which enables a rating of the leaders of each company and illustrates the perception of positive leadership within the company from the perspective of the employees. To evaluate the data, two regression models, a mediation analysis and a t-test were conducted. The PERMA-Lead model can predict chronic stress and burnout significantly. A higher perceived positive leadership style is associated with lower chronic stress and burnout scores. With regard to the analysis of the five dimensions of the PERMA-Lead individually, Positive Emotions were the strongest predictor of chronic stress and burnout which means that leaders shall focus on the increase of Positive Emotions within their company. Regarding the mediation analysis, no significant associations of PERMA-Lead and burnout when mediating for chronic stress were found. A reason for this could be due to the similar constructs of chronic stress and burnout. Considering the results of the t-test, no significant differences of the service industries and tourism and the general employee sample were found. When comparing each of the five dimensions of PERMA-Lead individually in a t-test, the dimensions Positive Emotions and Positive Relationships have shown significantly higher scores in the service industriesand tourism whereas the dimension accomplishment scored significantly lower than the general employee sample. These results point out that leaders in this field use the potential of Positive Emotions and Positive Relationships and enable both during work in comparison to leaders from other sectors. Moreover, the results of the current study show the potential of a positive leadership style and its benefits for the employees’ health. Future studies should replicate these results in different sectors to show the potential of PERMA-Lead and its implications on the employees’ health. Another possibility is the examination of intercultural samples to investigate the correlations of PERMA-Lead, chronic stress and burnout in a more holistic way. Finally, intervention studies are the next step to show the effects of PERMA-Lead and potential causality within this research topic.
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