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Psychological theories prioritize developing enduring sources of meaning in life. As such, unstable meaning should be detrimental to well-being. Two daily experience sampling studies were conducted to test this hypothesis. Across the studies, people with greater instability of daily meaning reported lower daily levels of meaning in life, and lower global levels of life satisfaction, positive affect, social connectedness and relationship satisfaction, along with higher global levels of negative affect and depression. In addition, instability of meaning interacted with average daily levels of meaning to account for significant variance in meaning in life scores. Relative to people with more stable meaning, people with unstable meaning tended to score near the middle of the distribution of well-being, whether they reported high or low levels of daily meaning. Results are discussed with an eye toward a better understanding of meaning in life and developing interventions to stabilize and maximize well-being.
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The unbearable lightness of meaning: Well-being and
unstable meaning in life
Michael F. Steger a b & Todd B. Kashdan c
a Department of Psychology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
b North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa
c Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Mail Stop 3F5, Fairfax, VA, 22030,
USA
Version of record first published: 11 Mar 2013.
To cite this article: Michael F. Steger & Todd B. Kashdan (2013): The unbearable lightness of meaning: Well-being and
unstable meaning in life, The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice,
DOI:10.1080/17439760.2013.771208
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The unbearable lightness of meaning: Well-being and unstable meaning in life
Michael F. Steger
a,b
* and Todd B. Kashdan
c
a
Department of Psychology, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO, USA;
b
North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa;
c
Department of Psychology, George Mason University Mail Stop 3F5, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
(Received 5 April 2012; nal version received 11 January 2013)
Psychological theories prioritize developing enduring sources of meaning in life. As such, unstable meaning should
be detrimental to well-being. Two daily experience sampling studies were conducted to test this hypothesis. Across
the studies, people with greater instability of daily meaning reported lower daily levels of meaning in life, and lower
global levels of life satisfaction, positive affect, social connectedness and relationship satisfaction, along with higher
global levels of negative affect and depression. In addition, instability of meaning interacted with average daily levels
of meaning to account for signicant variance in meaning in life scores. Relative to people with more stable meaning,
people with unstable meaning tended to score near the middle of the distribution of well-being, whether they reported
high or low levels of daily meaning. Results are discussed with an eye toward a better understanding of meaning in
life and developing interventions to stabilize and maximize well-being.
Keywords: meaning in life; well-being; social connectedness; purpose in life
It is not that I have no past. Rather, it continually
fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.
(Samuel R. Delany)
Meaning in life has joined a host of other variables
at the center of psychological accounts of the Good Life
(e.g. King & Napa, 1998; Lent, 2004; Ryff & Singer,
1998). Yet, many issues remain untested and unresolved.
For example, researchers and clinicians have only begun
to establish how we might help people increase percep-
tions of meaning in their lives (King, Hicks, Krull, &
Del Gaiso, 2006). Likewise, almost nothing is known
about the importance of stable meaning in life judgments
to psychological and social functioning. Nearly all
research on meaning in life has looked at it as a stable,
global individual difference, employing trait-based mea-
sures of peoples typical perceptions of meaning (for
review, see Steger, 2012). A modest number of experi-
ence-sampling studies have been conducted that shed
light on how day-to-day, within-person variations in
meaning in life judgments relate to other daily experi-
ences (e.g. Kashdan & Steger, 2007; King et al., 2006,
Study 2; Steger & Frazier, 2005; Steger & Kashdan,
2009; Steger, Kashdan, & Oishi, 2008). Although these
studies illuminate the tendency for daily ratings of mean-
ing in life to uctuate, they tell us little about the conse-
quences of unstable meaning. What of meaning that
continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera
of now, (Delany, 1975, p. 10)? The purpose of this
investigation was to examine the stability of daily mean-
ing in life judgments and assess whether excessive insta-
bility indicates psychological, social, or physical
vulnerabilities. First, we review the literature on meaning
in life, followed by a consideration of why instability in
meaning in life judgments might be a psychological vul-
nerability. Then, we present two daily diary studies that
test associations of unstable meaning in life judgments
with measures of psychological and social functioning.
In his writing about meaning in life, Frankl (1963)
extended Nietzsches claim that he [sic] who has a why
can endure any how,to argue that nding a meaningful
purpose for our existence gives us the psychological
resources and motivation to persevere through hardship
(McKnight & Kashdan, 2009). Subsequent research pur-
sued the task of establishing that meaning and purpose
are essential. Contemporary ideas about meaning in life
focus on the possession of understanding ones life expe-
riences and identifying important lifelong aspirations to
pursue (e.g. King et al., 2006). Thus, meaning in life has
been dened as the extent to which people comprehend,
make sense of, or see signicance in their lives, accom-
panied by the degree to which they perceives themselves
to have a purpose, mission, or overarching aim in life
(Steger, 2009, p. 682).
This denition refers to the presence of meaning in
peoples lives. Efforts also have been made to understand
the search for meaning in life. People might search for
meaning if they feel like their lives are meaningless
*Corresponding author. Email: michael.f.steger@colostate.edu
The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2013.771208
Ó2013 Taylor & Francis
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(e.g. Baumeister, 1991), or if they were motivated to
continually deepen their ideas about what their lives
mean (e.g. Maddi, 1970). The denition of search for
meaning accounts for both kinds of motivations (Steger,
Kashdan, Sullivan, & Lorentz, 2008). Essentially, the
presence of meaning is about the destination and search
for meaning is about the journey.
These two dimensions of meaning in life are almost
always operationalized according to how people rate the
intensity of their experience of meaning on any of sev-
eral self-report questionnaires. Thus, the majority of
research on meaning in life has focused on reports con-
cerning the level of meaning in life people subjectively
experience. This emphasis on the level of meaning in life
can be distinguished from the more qualitative, intuitive,
and complex web of sources, origins, and contents of
peoples meanings for their lives. In essence, most mean-
ing in life research has focused on the question how
meaningful does my life feelrather than the question
what is the meaning of my life.
People who rate themselves as having a great deal of
meaning in their lives also report higher levels of happi-
ness (e.g. Debats, van der Lubbe, & Wezeman, 1993), life
satisfaction (e.g. Chamberlain & Zika, 1988; Steger,
Oishi, & Kesebir, 2011), and general well-being (e.g.
Bonebright, Clay, & Ankenmann, 2000) and physical
health (Brassai, Piko, & Steger, 2011; Steger, Mann,
Michels, & Cooper, 2009). In addition, they report higher
levels of social closeness (e.g. Ryff, 1989). Most people
who report a tendency to continually search for meaning
in their lives endorse greater anxiety (Steger, Frazier,
Oishi, & Kaler, 2006), stress reactivity, social isolation,
and maladaptive personality traits (Steger, Kashdan, Sulli-
van, et al., 2008). Despite these contrasting proles, the
presence of meaning and search for meaning are corre-
lated at fairly low levels, indicating a fair degree of inde-
pendence. Recently, researchers found evidence that the
consequences of searching for meaning differ depending
on whether the seeker feels his or her life is meaningful
or meaningless (Steger, Kawabata, Shimai, & Otake,
2008; Steger et al., 2009; Steger, Oishi, & Kesibir, 2011).
One of the implications of this last nding is that
people who cannot nd meaning, or establish stable
meaning, search for it. People are sensitive to a lack of
meaning in their lives, and often respond with height-
ened distress (e.g. Harlow, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1986),
and poorer health (e.g. Ishida & Okada, 2006; Krause,
2004; OConner & Vallerand, 1998; Ryff et al., 2006;
Smith & Zautra, 2004; Steger et al., 2009). This body of
research has focused on subjective judgments of mean-
ingfulness in life, not on peoples qualitative experience
of meaning in life. There is an assumption that judg-
ments of meaning in life are a stable resource. Indeed,
self-reported levels of meaning in life are moderately
heritable (Steger, Hicks, Krueger, & Bouchard, 2011)
and stable across time (Steger & Kashdan, 2007). Mean-
ing is found, meaning is made, and people are motivated
to maintain the meanings they have created (Heine,
Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). Peoples motivations for the
establishment and stability of meaning is strong enough
that people report distress when confronted with mean-
ingless stimuli and report elevated well-being when
exposed to stimuli that have some degree of coherence
and meaningfulness to them (e.g. photographs of trees
shown in sequential order with the seasons; Heintzelman,
Trent, & King, in press). If unstable meaning is viewed
as a loss of meaning, then we can rely on theory and
empirical research asserting that reporting high levels of
meaning in life is consistently associated with well-
being, and that people suffer when they report meaning-
lessness (Ryff & Singer, 1998; Steger, 2012; Steger &
Shin, 2010). Research on adverse life events also sug-
gests that experiences that violate peoples beliefs and
comprehension of the world, or their goals and purposes
generate psychological distress and efforts to restore
meaning (Park, 2010; Steger & Park, 2012).
Prior research and theory suggests that instability of
meaning in life that unfolds on a global scale may be
detrimental. However, less evidence exists on the insta-
bility of meaning in life judgments over short-time peri-
ods. Some research has shown that daily reports of
meaning in life are positively related to well-being (King
et al., 2006; Steger & Frazier, 2005; Steger et al., 2006),
and in laboratory settings, people appear to engage in a
variety of compensatory strategies to maintain stable lev-
els of meaning (Hicks & King, 2007; Hicks, Schlegel, &
King, 2010; for review, see Heine et al., 2006). These
compensatory efforts are consistent with theory that
meaning in life is a stable resource that is used to main-
tain well-being and stave off despair (Frankl, 1963). It
remains to be seen whether a person can judge their life
overall as meaningful if their judgments consistently
uctuate based on changes in internal reactions and
external stimuli. Although levels of meaning in life are
presumed to be stable from day-to-day, this assumption
has not been tested. Thus, it is unclear whether people
whose perceived levels of meaning in life wax and wane
each day generally report high or low psychological and
social functioning.
Research on other adaptive traits provides insight
into whether stability is healthy. Prominent models of
well-being often focus on the importance of developing
stable, enduring resources (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Diener,
2000; Ryff & Singer, 1998). Instability or fragility of
important resources is considered a threat to well-being.
For example, people whose self-esteem is highly variable
endorse less well-being, including a less clearly dened
sense of purpose in life (Paradise & Kernis, 2002). Self-
esteem instability has been linked consistently with the
development of depression (Butler, Hokanson, & Flynn,
1994; Roberts & Gotlib, 1997; Roberts & Monroe,
1994) because people with highly unstable self-esteem
are more likely to rely on transient, externally-controlled
events and eeting internal states for their sense of
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self-worth (Greenier et al., 1999; Kernis, Cornell, Sun,
Berry, & Harlow, 1993). In addition, the interaction of
the intensity and instability of self-esteem often accounts
for additional variance in well-being (Paradise & Kernis,
2002). Thus, both the intensity and the stability of self-
esteem are important in understanding well-being. People
with highly unstable self-esteem are said to feel like their
self-worth is constantly at risk from situation to situation
(Kernis & Paradise, 2002); similar ndings have been
found for emotional or affective instability (e.g. Selby &
Joiner, 2009).
In this article, we argue that instability of meaning in
life from day-to-day should have a pattern of detrimental
relationships with well-being and distress. Extending the
concept of instability to meaning in life, people with
highly unstable meaning might feel as if the very
meaningfulness of their existence lives or dies with each
passing moment. Such instability is anathema to meaning
as it is portrayed in psychological accounts (e.g. Frankl,
1963). Meaning in life is discussed as a reservoir of
strength in the face of adversity, enduring motivation in
pursuing long-term aspirations in life, and a consistent
explanatory framework that orders life experiences and
renders them understandable for people. To have such a
profound psychological resource uctuate with the passing
days ought to undermine the benets of meaning in life.
Instability of meaning may expose people to higher fre-
quency bouts of meaninglessness or search for meaning,
both of which have been linked to lower well-being. To be
more specic, the way in which meaning in life is typi-
cally assessed is in terms of the subjective level of mean-
ing people judge to exist in their lives. These judgments
presumably reect the existence of enduring and reliable
resilience, motivational, and cognitive resources, and
instability of these judgments would presumably reect a
tenuous grip on those resources. Therefore, we hypothe-
sized that people with unstable meaning would experience
less well-being (positive affect, Study 1; the presence of
meaning, search for meaning, and life satisfaction, Studies
1 and 2) and greater distress (negative affect, Study 1;
depressive symptoms, Studies 1 and 2; social anxiety
symptoms, Study 2) than people with stable meaning. In
addition to these indicators of psychological functioning,
we assessed indicators of social functioning, including
social connectedness (Study 1), and relationship satisfac-
tion (Study 2). Assessing social functioning is important
in meaning in life research because when asked, people
most commonly nominate social relationships as their
most important source of meaning in life (e.g. Bar-Tur,
Savaya, & Prager, 2001). If peoples perceptions of mean-
ing in life crystallize around social functioning, then
uctuations in meaning in life might be of most relevance
to interpersonal difculties. To our knowledge, these
hypotheses have yet to be tested in prior work.
Furthermore, we believe that stability of meaning in
life judgments should not be considered outside of the
context of intensity of meaning, or peoples levels of
subjectively reported meaning. Although we anticipate
that unstable meaning will be signicantly related to
well-being, distress, and social functioning, the signi-
cant of those relations may not rise above the already
established importance of intensity of meaning. Further-
more, unstable meaning could have very different conse-
quences for someone who experiences high levels of
meaning compared with someone who feels little mean-
ing in life. Thus, we need to consider the potential syn-
ergy between instability and levels of meaning. We
hypothesized that unstable meaning would continue to
demonstrate signicant relationships with well being,
distress, and social functioning even when intensity of
meaning is taken into consideration. Because of the
novel nature of this research, we do not offer hypotheses
about the form of any interaction between instability and
levels. It is still unclear whether stable meaning in life is
better than unstable meaning in life, or whether unstable
meaning is inuential regardless of levels of meaning.
The present studies addressed this gap in the literature.
Study 1
To establish the role of instability of meaning in life in
predicting global well-being, researchers must obtain
multiple assessments over a period of time. Peoples
reports about meaning in life will vary from day to day,
and the variability of these repeated reports can be cap-
tured using a simple standard deviation of each partici-
pants scores over the course of the study. A second
metric of instability used in the present studies is the
mean square successive difference (MSSD). MSSD is
recommended for assessing instability and variability in
experience sampling studies (Jahng, Wood, & Trull,
2008). Whereas standard deviations convey the extent of
overall variability, MSSD addresses the temporal insta-
bility from one observation to the next successive one.
Thus, the MSSD statistic is more sensitive by capturing
daily changes rather than a limited focus on reactivity
over the entire assessment period. We used correlations
to test our initial hypotheses about the relationship
between unstable meaning and well-being, distress, and
social functioning. To test our hypotheses about these
relationships persisting even when intensity of meaning
in considered, as well as to explore whether instability
and level of meaning interact to explain variance in these
variables, we used multiple regression.
Method
Participants
Participants were 103 undergraduate students (Mage =
18.9 years, SD = 2.3; 61.4% women 63.2% European
The Journal of Positive Psychology 3
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American, 7.0% Asian American, 6.1% Asian, all others
<5%) recruited from introductory psychology classes.
Procedure
Participants were given the link to two internet-based
surveys. One contained global measures of meaning in
life, life satisfaction, positive and negative affect, depres-
sion, and social connectedness. The other contained the
daily report, and required that participants return to the
site every evening between 7:00 pm and 5:00 am to
record their daily responses. Participants completed glo-
bal measures on the rst day of the 21-day reporting per-
iod. Approximately 20 valid daily reports were received
from each participant.
Measures
Daily meaning in life. The Daily Meaning Scale (DMS;
Steger, Kashdan, & Oishi, 2008) was used to assess how
meaningful life felt on one specic day. The scale con-
sists of two items (e.g. How meaningful does your life
feel?to assess the daily presence of meaning. Four
items assessing search for meaning were added to the
DMS. These items parallel those used to assess search
for meaning in the measure of global meaning in life
used in the study (e.g. How much were you searching
for meaning in your life?). All items were rated from 1
(not at all)to7(absolutely). Research has demonstrated
that the daily presence of meaning scale scores are
reliable and valid (Kashdan & Steger, 2007; Steger,
Kashdan, & Oishi, 2008).
Meaning in life. The Meaning in Life Questionnaire
(MLQ; Steger et al., 2006) was used to assess meaning
in life. The MLQ consists of two ve-item subscales that
assess the search for meaning (e.g. I am looking for
something that makes my life feel meaningful) and the
presence of meaning (e.g. I understand my lifes mean-
ing). Items are rated from 1 (absolutely untrue)to7
(absolutely true). Research has demonstrated that MLQ
scores are reliable and valid (Steger et al., 2006; Steger
& Kashdan, 2007).
Life satisfaction. The Satisfaction with Life Scale
(SWLS; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Grifn, 1985) was
used to assess life satisfaction. The SWLS consists of 5
items (e.g. The conditions of my life are excellent),
which are rated from 1 (strongly agree)to7(strongly
disagree). A large body of research has demonstrated
that SWLS scores are reliable and valid (for review, see
Pavot & Diener, 1993).
Positive and negative affect. The Positive and Negative
Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen,
1988) was used to assess positive and negative affect.
The PANAS consists of two 10-item subscales that ask
participants to report on the affect they experienced over
the past two weeks. The rst subscale assesses positive
affect (e.g. proud) and the second assessed negative
affect (e.g. ashamed). Items are rated from 1 (very
slightly or not at all)to5(extremely). A large amount of
research has demonstrated that PANAS scores are reli-
able and valid (e.g. Watson et al., 1988).
Depression. The Center for Epidemiological Studies
Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) was used to
assess levels of depression. The CES-D consists of 20
items (e.g. I had crying spells) which were rated for
their occurrence during the past week on a scale ranging
from 1 (rarely or none of the time)to4(most or all of
the time). Previous research has demonstrated that CES-
D scores are reliable and valid (Radloff, 1977).
Social connectedness. The Social Connectedness Scale
(Lee & Robbins, 1995) was used to assess feelings of
connection with others. The scale consists of 20 items,
with 10 positively worded (e.g. I feel understood by the
people I know) and 10 negatively worded (e.g. I have
little sense of togetherness with my peers), which are
rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to6(strongly
agree). Research supports the reliability of the scale
scores (Lee & Robbins, 1995).
Results
Unstable meaning
Descriptive statistics on all measures, including unstable
meaning, are presented in Table 1. Participantsreports
reected an average variation of somewhat less than one
point on the 1-to-7 rating scale. Both metrics of instabil-
ity of meaning showed signicant skewness
(skew
SD
= 0.94, SE = 0.24; skew
MSSD
= 3.11, SE = 0.24)
and kurtosis (kurtosis
SD
= 1.82, SE = 0.47; kurto-
sis
MSSD
= 11.66, SE = 0.47). The peak of the distribution
was around an SD of 0.53, and around an MSSD value
of 0.00. Thus, for most people, daily meaning in life
was rather stable, and MSSD provides a more conserva-
tive estimate of instability. Despite the variation from a
normal distribution, we elected not to transform the data.
This is the rst study of its kind, and preserving the
untransformed data increases its descriptiveness and
increases the likelihood of generalizability. We recognize
that the observed relationships among the variables may
be attenuated in the present data.
Analysis of variances by race were signicant for
negative affect, depression, and social connectedness
(Fs = 2.43 to 3.74, ps < 0.05). Tukeysbpost hoc test
indicated that the 11 participants who identied as either
African American or other/multiracialreported lower
levels of negative affect than the 11 participants who
identied as either Asian or African American; in addi-
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tion, the three participants who identied as African
American reported higher levels of social connectedness
than the ve participants who identied as Asian Ameri-
can. There were no other signicant relations between
demographic and well-being variables.
Correlations of unstable meaning and well-being
Correlations of unstable meaning showed that people
whose ratings of meaning in life uctuated the most
from day-to-day reported lower levels of average daily
meaning and life satisfaction, and higher levels of nega-
tive affect and depression (see Table 2). Also, as pre-
dicted, people with more unstable meaning reported a
lesser degree of social connectedness.
Synergy between instability and level of meaning
Upon including average level of daily meaning and
instability of meaning in step 1 of our hierarchical regres-
sion model, unstable meaning only was signicantly
related to negative affect and depression. Average levels
of daily meaning were signicantly related to global
meaning, life satisfaction, positive affect, depression, and
social connectedness (see Table 3).
Upon adding the interaction between level and insta-
bility of meaning in step 2 of our regression model, the
interaction accounted for signicant additional variance
in global meaning (β=0.21, p< 0.05) and positive
affect (β=0.12, p< 0.05). To understand the nature of
these moderation effects, we examined simple slopes.
Simple slopes analyses characterize the shape of interac-
tions by plotting relationships between variables at ±1SD
as slopes. In the present simple slopes analyses, the
slopes themselves were marginally signicant, so we
described the pattern of slopes rather than the signi-
cance of individual slopes themselves. There was a con-
sistent tendency seen for both global meaning and
positive affect. At high levels of daily meaning, the rela-
tionship between unstable meaning and global meaning
was generally negative (β=0.18, p= 0.21); at low lev-
els, this relationship was generally positive (β= 0.29,
Table 2. Correlations among measures, Study 1.
1 234 5 6 78910
(1) Unstable meaning SD
(2) Unstable meaning MSSD 0.82
(3) Daily meaning 0.38 0.14
(4) Daily searching 0.08 0.16 0.15
(5). The presence of meaning 0.22+ 0.05 0.61 0.32
(6) Search for meaning 0.15 0.02 0.14 0.46 0.26
(7) Life satisfaction 0.34 0.17 0.43 0.09 0.33 0.13
(8) Positive affect 0.14 0.04 0.45 0.09 0.49 0.11 0.46
(9) Negative affect 0.37 0.20 0.24 0.05 0.19+ 0.18+ 0.34 0.11
(10) Depression 0.36 0.20 0.35 0.01 0.27 0.18+ 0.49 0.32 0.68
(11) Social connectedness 0.21 0.08 0.35 09 0.26 0.18+ 0.56 0.38 0.50 0.68
Notes: N= 103, SD = standard deviation, MSSD = mean square successive difference. Correlations in boldface are signicant at
p< 0.05. Correlations signicant at p< 0.10 are denoted by +.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics for measures used, Studies 12.
Study 1 (N= 103) Study 2 (N= 55)
MSD αMSD α
Unstable meaning 0.80 0.38 0.86 0.48
Daily meaning 10.40 2.24 0.97 9.90 2.40 0.98
Daily searching 12.35 5.56 0.98 15.45 5.57 0.98
The presence of meaning
a
17.95 3.78 0.81 24.17 6.07 0.88
Search for meaning 22.26 4.48 0.88 24.26 6.74 0.92
Life satisfaction 24.89 5.27 0.87 25.35 6.17 0.91
Positive affect 34.43 5.65 0.85
Negative affect 21.38 6.92 0.87
Depression 16.15 9.65 0.88 15.23 8.48 0.86
Social connectedness 87.98 16.66 0.94
Relationship satisfaction
b
29.38 4.17 0.82
Social anxiety 41.67 14.20 0.85
Notes:
a
Due to clerical error, one item was omitted from the presence of meaning scale in Study 2.
b
n= 29 due to its relevance only to people in committed relationships.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 5
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p= 0.08). Similarly, at high levels of daily meaning, the
relationship between people with unstable meaning and
positive affect was generally negative (β=0.14,
p= 0.28); at low levels, it was generally positive
(β= 0.27, p= 0.08). The difference between the relation-
ships at high and low levels of daily meaning in life sug-
gest that unstable meaning has a subtle undermining
inuence when ones life feels meaningful from day-to-
day, compared to an enhancing effect when ones life
feels meaningless. These interactions can be looked at in
a different way, however. As Figure 1 (Panels A and B)
suggests, the happiest people (in terms of global meaning
and positive affect) tend to report high, stable levels of
daily meaning in life and positive affect; the least happy
people tend to report low, stable levels of daily meaning
in life and positive affect. The resemblance of these
interactions to those reported between levels and instabil-
ity of self-esteem is striking (cf. Paradise & Kernis,
2002, Figure 2, p. 356).
Discussion
In Study 1, unstable meaning in life was related to less
well-being and more distress. People whose grasp on
meaning in life is most tenuous also report less of a
sense of being connected to people around them, sup-
porting the idea that dissatisfaction with important
sources of meaning may contribute to its fragility. At the
same time, many of these relations did not persist above
and beyond the inuence of daily levels of meaning in
life. Exceptions were noted in that signicant, positive
relations were observed between unstable meaning and
negative affect, as well as depression above and beyond
average levels of daily meaning. This nding suggests
that unstable meaning may represent a unique source of
distress for some people. In addition, moderation tests
revealed that the interaction between instability and lev-
els of daily meaning was signicantly related to both
global meaning in life and positive affect. The form of
these interactions suggests that the possible impact of
Table 3. Interaction of instability and levels of daily meaning in life, Study 1.
bSE
b
βAdj. R
2
ΔR
2
F
The presence of meaning
Unstable meaning 0.20 0.40 0.05 0.35 0.37 18.68
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 2.47 0.42 .63
⁄⁄⁄
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.88 0.41 0.21
0.38 0.04 4.46
Search for meaning
Unstable meaning 0.40 0.50 0.09 0.01 0.03 1.41
Daily meaning levels 0.47 0.51 0.10
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.62 0.53 0.12 0.01 0.02 1.39
Life satisfaction
Unstable meaning 0.24 0.13 0.19
+
0.21 0.23 13.95
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 0.47 0.13 0.36
⁄⁄⁄
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.10 0.13 0.07 0.21 0.01 0.61
Positive affect
Unstable meaning 0.03 0.05 0.06 0.19 0.20 12.30
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 0.25 0.05 0.45
⁄⁄⁄
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.11 0.06 0.18
0.21 0.03 4.10
Negative affect
Unstable meaning 0.21 0.07 0.32
⁄⁄⁄
0.13 0.15 8.43
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 0.09 0.07 0.13
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.02 0.07 0.03 0.12 0.00 0.12
Depression
Unstable meaning 0.12 0.05 0.27
⁄⁄
0.16 0.18 10.72
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 0.11 0.05 0.24
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.01 0.05 0.02 0.16 0.00 0.03
Social connectedness
Unstable meaning 0.01 0.36 0.00 0.06 0.08 3.26
Daily meaning levels 0.78 0.33 0.29
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.51 0.34 0.17 0.07 0.03 2.32
p< 0.05,
⁄⁄
p< 0.01,
⁄⁄⁄
p< 0.001,
+
p< 0.10.
Notes: N= 103. Unstable meaning refers to SD of daily meaning reports. Adj. R
2
,ΔR
2
,Fshown from Step 1, then from Step 2. All
coefcients presented are from Step 2.
6M.F. Steger and T.B. Kashdan
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unstable meaning in life depends on how much meaning
people experience from day-to-day.
With regard to daily search for meaning, although
there was a large, positive correlation with global search
for meaning, and a medium, negative correlation with
global presence of meaning; other correlations were non-
signicant. This result may indicate that daily search for
meaning is not as detrimental as search for meaning at
the dispositional level. Of note, daily search for meaning
was not signicantly related to instability of meaning. It
seems unlikely that people search for meaning more
when their grip on meaning loosens for a day, or that
people who frequently search for meaning are more
likely to relinquish their grasp of whatever meaning they
possess.
Study 2
One of the conclusions suggested in Study 1 was that
people with unstable meaning may experience less social
connectedness. This was originally proposed as being dri-
ven by dissatisfaction with an important source of mean-
ing. However, attaining high levels of meaning appeared
more important than attaining stability of meaning, under-
mining the idea that relationships as a source of meaning,
broadly speaking, are involved with the stability of mean-
ing. Perhaps global assessments of how well-connected
one feels to other people is too imprecise of a measure to
connect with dynamic uctuations in meaning. Decits in
specic areas of social functioning might predispose
someone to more fragile meaning. Therefore, we assessed
two additional dimensions of social functioning: relation-
ship satisfaction and social anxiety. Within existing inti-
mate relationships peoples satisfaction is a broadly
representative judgment, capturing their overall evalua-
tions of the relationship, and can be considered to repre-
sent the overall success people have in forming high-
quality intimate relationships (Hendrick, 1988). Social
anxiety represents peoples concern about being scruti-
nized, negatively evaluated, and rejected by other people,
leading to avoidance behavior and a lower likelihood of
positive social and non-social experiences (Kashdan,
Weeks, & Savostyanova, 2011). Thus, Study 2 examined
relations between unstable meaning and propensity to
form close relationships, satisfaction within existing close
relationships, and social anxiety.
Method
Participants
Participants were 55 undergraduate students (Mage =
20.0 years, SD = 3.9; 56.5% women; 61.3% European
American, 12.9% Asian American, 11.2% African
American, all others <5%) recruited from introductory
psychology classes.
Procedure
Procedures followed to obtain daily and global reports
were identical to those followed in Study 1. The only
differences were that participants provided daily reports
for 28 consecutive days rather than 21, and to
accommodate measures of relationship satisfaction and
social anxiety, the PANAS was not included.
Approximately 23 valid daily reports were received from
each participant.
Measures
Study 3 used several of the same measures as were used
in Studies 1 and 2, including the DMS, MLQ, SWLS,
and CESD.
Relationship satisfaction. The Relationship Assessment
Scale (Hendrick, 1988) was used to assess relationship
satisfaction within existing romantic relationships. The
scale consists of two negatively worded items (e.g. How
often do you wish you had not gotten into this
relationship?) and ve positively worded items (e.g. In
general, how satised are you with your relationship?),
which are rated on a scale from 1 (low satisfaction)to7
(high satisfaction). Research supports the reliability and
validity of scale scores (Hendrick, 1988).
Social anxiety. The Social Interaction Anxiety Scale
(Mattick & Clarke, 1998) was used to assess general
tendencies to be fearful of, and avoid, social situations.
The scale consists of 19 items (e.g. When mixing socially
Panel A
Panel B
Figure 1. Interaction of average daily levels of meaning in life
and degree of instability in predicting global meaning in life
and positive affect, Study 1.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 7
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I am uncomfortable.) which are rated on a scale of 0 (not
at all)to4(extremely). Research supports the reliability
and validity of scale scores (Mattick & Clarke, 1998).
Results
Descriptive ndings
Descriptive statistics on all measures are presented in
Table 4. Participantsreports were similar to Study 1
with an average variation of somewhat less than one
point on the 1-to-7 rating scale. As in Study 1, both
metrics of instability of meaning showed signicant
skewness (skew
SD
= 1.22, SE = 0.33; skew
MSSD
= 4.43,
SE = 0.33) and kurtosis (kurtosis
SD
= 4.16, SE = 0.65; kur-
tosis
MSSD
= 25.21, SE = 0.65). Also as in Study 1, the
peak of the distribution was around an SD of 0.53, and
around an MSSD value of 0.00. There were no signi-
cant relations between demographic and other variables.
Correlations of unstable meaning and well-being
As in Study 1, correlations of unstable meaning showed
that people whose ratings of meaning in life uctuated
the most from day-to-day reported lower levels of life
satisfaction, and greater depressive symptoms. Also,
people with more unstable meaning reported less
relationship satisfaction.
Synergy between instability and level of meaning
Upon including average level of daily meaning and
instability of meaning in step 1 of our hierarchical
regression model, signicant relations only were found
with search for meaning and relationship satisfaction (see
Table 5). In contrast to Study 1, unstable meaning was
not signicantly related to depressive symptoms. Average
levels of daily meaning were signicantly related to glo-
bal meaning and life satisfaction.
Upon adding the interaction between level and insta-
bility of meaning in step 2 of our regression model, the
interaction accounted for signicant additional variance
in global meaning and search for meaning. To under-
stand the nature of these moderation effects, we exam-
ined simple slopes. The pattern among these slopes
suggested that at high levels of daily meaning, people
with unstable meaning reported lower levels of global
meaning in life (β=0.44, p= 0.07); at low levels, they
reported higher levels of global meaning in life (β= 0.26,
p= 0.09). The form of this interaction (Figure 2, Panel
A) appears very similar to the form of the interaction
found in Study 1 (Figure 1, Panel A).
With regard to search for meaning, at high levels of
daily meaning, people with high levels of daily meaning
reported a stronger positive relation between unstable
meaning and global search for meaning (β= 0.90,
p= 0.00) than did people with low levels of daily mean-
ing (β= 0.20, p= 0.26). This interaction is presented in
Figure 2 (Panel B).
Discussion
As with Study 1, unstable meaning was related to lower
well-being. One of the aims of Study 2 was to provide a
more in-depth investigation of how social factors were
relevant to unstable meaning. On a bivariate level, there
were indications that relationship satisfaction was nega-
tively related to unstable meaning. Regression analyses
revealed that the instability of daily meaning was more
closely tied to satisfaction in romantic relationships than
was the level of daily meaning.
In both Studies 1 and 2, the interaction between lev-
els and instability of daily meaning predicted global
meaning in life. This suggests a fairly reliable relation-
ship. The form of the interaction was similar across the
two studies, and was similar to the form of interactions
observed between levels and instability of self-esteem
(Paradise & Kernis, 2002). Although the interaction
between unstable meaning and search for meaning was
not signicant in Study 1, it was signicant in Study 2.
One idea about the relation between experiencing and
Table 4. Correlations among measures, Study 2.
1 2345 6 7 89
(1) Unstable Meaning SD
(2) Unstable Meaning MSSD 0.87
(3) Daily Meaning 0.61 0.43
(4) Daily Searching 0.01 0.11 0.31
(5) The presence of meaning 0.24+ 0.05 0.53 0.03
(6) Search for meaning 0.27+ 0.04 0.19 0.48 0.30
(7) Life Satisfaction 0.57 0.58 0.56 0.07 0.38 0.28
(8) Depression 0.33 0.09 0.51 0.05 0.53 0.31 0.42
(9) Relationship satisfaction
a
0.52 0.45 0.38 0.05 0.23 0.35+ 0.48 .35+
(10) Social anxiety 0.04 0.08 0.16 0.01 0.49 0.30 0.25+ 0.54 0.23
a
n= 29 due to its relevance only to people in committed relationships
Notes: N= 55, SD = standard deviation, MSSD = mean square successive difference. Correlations in boldface are signicant at p< .05.
Correlations signicant at p< .10 are denoted by +.
8M.F. Steger and T.B. Kashdan
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searching for meaning is that as the experience of mean-
ing becomes threatened, people are motivated to search
for meaning (Steger, Kashdan, Sullivan et al., 2008).
Study 2 supported this idea, as the interaction between
instability and levels of searching for meaning suggested
that this might happen primarily among people who
experience high daily levels of meaning. Perhaps people
who chronically seek meaning in their lives are more
motivated to do so when they experience eeting
glimpses of what having meaning might be like, only to
feel it slip away. Future work can use person-centric
approaches such as latent class analyses to determine
which people and under what conditions is the search
for meaning adaptive.
General discussion
One common element of psychological disorders is the
inability to effectively regulate emotions and self-evalua-
tions in different contexts (American Psychiatric Associ-
ation., 2000; Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). Similarly,
several theories of well-being prioritize the element of
stability or equilibrium. That is, well-being is best when
it is an enduring, reliable resource, marked by
consistently positive feelings and perceptions of ones
self and livelihood (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryff & Singer,
Table 5. Interaction of instability and levels of daily meaning in life, Study 2.
bSE
b
βAdj. R
2
ΔR
2
F
The presence of meaning
Unstable meaning .54 0.98 0.09 0.27 0.30 9.79
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 2.48 0.96 0.42
⁄⁄
Unstable Daily meaning levels 2.04 0.60 0.44
⁄⁄⁄
0.40 0.14 11.46
⁄⁄⁄
Search for meaning
Unstable meaning 3.28 1.20 0.55
⁄⁄
0.07 0.07 1.84
Daily meaning levels 1.41 1.17 0.23
Unstable Daily meaning levels 2.08 0.73 0.43
⁄⁄
0.16 0.14 8.07
⁄⁄
Life satisfaction
Unstable meaning 1.40 1.05 0.23 0.36 0.38 14.25
⁄⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 2.63 1.03 0.42
⁄⁄
Unstable Daily meaning levels 1.09 0.64 0.22
+
0.38 0.04 2.85
+
Depression
Unstable meaning 1.17 1.50 0.16 0.22 0.25 6.92
⁄⁄
Daily meaning levels 2.79 1.50 0.37
+
Unstable Daily meaning levels 1.45 0.91 0.25 0.25 0.05 2.56
Relationship satisfaction
Unstable meaning 2.35 1.23 0.41
0.24 0.31 4.70
Daily meaning levels 1.14 1.10 0.22
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.36 1.39 0.04 0.21 0.00 0.04
Social anxiety
Unstable meaning 1.26 1.26 0.22 0.03 0.07 1.68
Daily meaning levels 1.73 1.23 0.29
Unstable Daily meaning levels 0.40 0.77 0.09 0.01 0.01 2.02
p< 0.05,
⁄⁄
p< 0.01,
⁄⁄⁄
p< 0.001,
+
p< 0.10.
Notes: N= 55. Unstable meaning refers to SD of daily meaning reports. R
2
,ΔR
2
,Fshown from Step 1, then from Step 2. All coef-
cients presented are from Step 2.
Panel A
Panel B
Figure 2. Interaction of average daily levels of meaning in life
and degree of instability in predicting global meaning in life
and global search for meaning in life, Study 2.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 9
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1998). Of the two principal dimensions, intensity and
stability, the intensity of positive feelings and perceptions
has received more attention than the stability. Yet,
research supports the idea that these are separate ele-
ments (e.g. Roberts & Monroe, 1992), with a persuasive
body of research growing around understanding the sta-
bility of self-esteem judgments (e.g. Kernis et al., 1993;
Paradise & Kernis, 2002). In the present set of studies,
for the rst time, the question of intensity versus stability
was posed in the context of meaning in life.
Meaning in life is emerging as an important variable,
and knowing whether intensity or stability of meaning
or both are important to human functioning might aid
assessment and intervention strategies for improving
meaning, and by extension, well-being. In the present
studies, we focused on peoples reports of the level of
meaning in life they experienced from day to day. Daily
levels of meaning provided an indicator of intensity of
meaningfulness, and both the raw variance in daily
reports of meaning in life (i.e. standard deviation) and
the deviation of one days reports of meaning in life
from the previous days reports (i.e. mean square of suc-
cessive difference) provided indicators of stability of
meaning in life levels. In the two studies presented here,
daily levels of meaning in life showed consistent and
expected correlations with indicators of positive psycho-
logical and social functioning. The pattern of relations
observed for stability of meaning was less robust than
that observed for intensity. Nonetheless, our results make
a case for including stability of meaning as an indicator
of overall well-being. People who reported greater day-
to-day instability of meaning in life endorsed less global
meaning, positive affect, life satisfaction, social connect-
edness, and relationship satisfaction, and reported greater
negative affect and depressive symptoms.
One hypothesis for these relations was that unstable
meaning might represent problems in the most com-
monly endorsed source of meaning: relationships. Unsta-
ble meaning and social connectedness were negatively
related on a bivariate level, but in tests of construct spec-
icity, average daily levels of meaning were more impor-
tant. This suggested that perhaps broad feelings of
connectedness were related to the intensity of meaning,
but perhaps problems with more specic social attributes
that might help foster or inhibit the creation of satisfying,
intimate relations could destabilize meaning. For exam-
ple, romantic relationship satisfaction was more closely
tied to instability of meaning compared with level of
meaning. The present studies are, essentially, correla-
tional studies, which leaves open both the possibility that
people question their relationships more strenuously
when their meaning in life has become unhinged, and
that problems in romantic relationships cause instability
in daily meaning in life. Longitudinal research in which
both meaning in life and relationship satisfaction are
assessed daily would be able to identify the temporal
sequence underlying the relation between unstable mean-
ing and relationship satisfaction.
From a technical perspective, a stronger pattern of
correlations was observed for SD as a measure of insta-
bility than for MSSD. MSSD does a better job of captur-
ing the temporal dependence of successive daily reports
than SD (Jahng et al., 2008). The two instability metrics
were highly correlated, yet their minordivergence in
correlations with psychological and social functioning
suggests two possible scenarios in the present data. In
both cases, we attempt to identify uctuations in the data
that could decouple raw variability from temporal insta-
bility. First, a participant could report a quantum shift in
daily levels of meaning in life for example, from sev-
eral days of very high levels to a consistent run of very
low levels creating a wide range of scores, with only
one instance when one days reports were highly deviant
from the previous days reports. People with higher SDs
might have a larger leapin daily meaning in life in this
example, which should theoretically have strong implica-
tions for their psychological and social functioning.
Second, a participant could experience a steady linear
trend in daily reports. Such trends would create variabil-
ity in their daily scores without creating large deviations
from one day to the next. In fact, such linear trends do
not increase MSSD in the same way they increase SD
(Jahng et al., 2008). A random pattern of responding
would not result in a decoupling of SD and MSSD
because variations in day-to-day scores would increase
both SD and MSSD. Thus, despite their similarities, both
SD and MSSD provide unique information about
longitudinal data.
Transcending either/or
In tests of construct specicity, intensity of daily mean-
ing was more consistently related to well-being than sta-
bility. There were several exceptions including life
satisfaction, negative affect, depressive symptoms, search
for meaning, and relationship satisfaction. The failure to
replicate these instances in which unstable meaning was
more strongly related to well-being than daily meaning
from Study 1 to Study 2 may be rooted in the lack of
power yielded by the small sample size in Study 2. The
regression coefcients were of comparable size for life
satisfaction (0.19 and 0.23, Study 1 and Study 2,
respectively) and depressive symptoms (0.27 and 0.16,
Study 1 and Study 2, respectively). However, the differ-
ence in magnitude of the regression coefcients between
unstable meaning and global search for meaning from
Study 3 (0.55) and Study 2 (0.09) begs a different expla-
nation. One possibility is that Study 2 collected a larger
number of daily reports (28) than Study 1 (21), poten-
tially capturing greater variability in daily scores.
Despite these differences across studies, it seems
likely that unstable meaning is a signicant detractor
10 M.F. Steger and T.B. Kashdan
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from well-being. Future research should explore whether
there are boundary conditions that limit its effect.
Unstable meaning could manifest as frequent but small
deviations from typical levels, or rare but precipitous
drops of meaning. It is not clear which would be
worse, or whether the magnitude of uctuations of
meaning is related to frequency. It certainly seems
probable that the worst case scenario would be frequent,
cataclysmic bouts with what Frankl (1963) termed
existential vacuum.
The examination of the interaction between level
and instability of meaning is another novel contribu-
tion of the present research. This interaction was
related to global meaning, search for meaning, and
positive affect. The most consistent effect was for glo-
bal meaning. In both studies, stable meaning was more
common at the ends of the spectrum and instability
was more common in the center of the spectrum. Peo-
ple who globally evaluated their lives as being mean-
ingful tended to have highly meaningful days, across
time. The reverse was true for people who globally
evaluated their lives as meaningless. In this sense,
instability seemed to hurt people who reported high
levels of global meaning; their average levels of daily
meaning were lower than would be expected. Again,
the converse appeared true; average levels of daily
meaning were higher than expected among low global
meaning people whose daily ratings were unstable.
This same pattern was observed for positive affect in
Study 1. One implication is that when people report
high global meaning, efforts could be made to help
them consolidate their meaning in life, whether that
means investing in sources of meaning, or stabilizing
links between meaning and more durable foundations,
such as values or long-term relationships (e.g. family).
At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps people low
in meaning could be encouraged to be more exible
and engage in curious exploration of potentially
meaningful experiences (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010;
Kashdan & Steger, 2007). An alternative implication is
that instability of meaning might be an adaptive strat-
egy for people who nd themselves experiencing
meaninglessness. In this interpretation, unstable
meaning may represent peoples efforts to transcend
their meaninglessness and initiate a search for more
meaning.
The analyses conducted in the present studies suggest
a thought-provoking pattern. When controlling for daily
levels of meaning, day-to-day instability of meaning in
life reports were fairly consistently related to negative
indicators of psychological functioning such as negative
affect and depression. Yet, the interaction of daily levels
and instability of meaning was only signicantly related
to positive indicators of psychological and social func-
tioning. More research is needed to verify whether this
pattern is stable and generalizable. In the absence of
additional research, we speculate that negative affect and
depression undermine the consistent experience of
meaning in life, fostering instability, and in turn, being
exacerbated by unstable meaning. We also speculate that
stability of meaning is insufcient to create positive psy-
chological and social functioning. One can enduringly
experience life as empty and meaningless. The effects of
stable meaning in life likely depend on a persons current
level of meaning in life to understand positive indicators
of well-being.
Limitations
The internet-based methods in Studies 1 and 2 may have
introduced specic limitations to the exploration of
unstable meaning. For example, participants might have
been less interested to log onto the website on days that
were particularly distressing, which could reduce the
number of low meaning days that were reported. This
would reduce variance in meaning scores and attenuate
our index of unstable meaning and all subsequent corre-
lations with this predictor.
Among other limitations, such as the use of conve-
nience samples and self-report measures, the current pro-
ject was limited in its ability to control for third variables
that might account for the relations observed. For exam-
ple, neuroticism has been characterized as a dispositional
propensity to exhibit negative behaviors, emotions, and
thoughts on a daily basis (Gunthert, Cohen, & Armeli,
1999), and has been characterized as emotional instability
(e.g. Saucier, 1994). The cumulative effect of such nega-
tive experiences could undermine the stability of meaning
in life. It is also possible that a personality trait like neu-
roticism could be responsible for the similar ways in
which unstable self-esteem, unstable affect, and unstable
meaning hinder the experience of well-being and foster
distress (e.g. Kernis et al., 1993). Simultaneously assess-
ing and modeling all of these variables would provide
insight into whether instability of evaluations of ones
self, ones affective tenor, and ones life share common
roots in personality.
Conclusions
Meaning in life is usually thought of as a resource
people nd and build upon: a foundation for ourish-
ing. The value of stability is implicit in all major
accounts of meaning. The present investigation is an
initial effort to identify whether the subjective experi-
ence of meaning in life would still be a valuable asset
if experiences of meaningfulness were ephemeral and
unstable. Across both studies, day-to-day instability of
meaning in life reports was associated with less well-
being and more distress. Several similarities emerged
across these studies, but also some differences that
suggest complexities in the interaction of instability
and levels of meaning in life. There is ample room
The Journal of Positive Psychology 11
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for improving understanding of how having an overly
tenuous grasp on meaning in life plays into overall
well-being. Due to the prominent role of meaning in
well-being theory and research, it is important to con-
tinue to study what happens when meaning is frag-
mented on the ephemera of now.
Acknowledgments
Research funding for Todd B. Kashdan was provided by the
Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason
University.
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The Journal of Positive Psychology 13
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... In the academic context, meaning in life drives students to persevere as having a sense of purpose can serve as a strong motivation to persist in the face of challenges and difficulties (Makola, 2014;Steger & Kashdan, 2013). Studies on economically disadvantaged youth, however, show that poverty can discourage students from pursuing decisions and behaviors that lead to upward mobility (e.g., persisting at school) (Browman et al., 2019;Maragkou, 2020). ...
... Daily ratings of meaning in life were also seen to be relatively stable. Yet, those with unstable meaning were seen to be less satisfied with life and have more depressive symptoms (Steger & Kashdan, 2013). These studies suggest that the belief that one's life has purpose has consequences that impact cognitions and behaviors, long enough for it to impact relevant life outcomes. ...
... Meaning in life has been associated with intrinsic motivation (Bailey & Phillips, 2016) and self-efficacy (Yuen & Datu, 2021). The presence of meaning in life may explain how an individual can still move forward despite various setbacks, serving as a source of strength in difficult situations (Steger & Kashdan, 2013). People with a higher level of meaning in life will find reasons to continue persevering (Hill et al., 2016;Makola, 2014). ...
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Meaning in life has been linked with academic and psychological outcomes. However, limited studies investigated the role of socioeconomic background on the association between meaning in life and persistence in the academic context. The present study examined the moderating role of socioeconomic background on the positive link between meaning in life and persistence among Fili-pino adolescents. This study involved a representative sample of 15-year-old high school students (N = 4512) from low-income (n = 1065) and high-income (n = 3447) regions in the Philippines. Data were extracted from OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018. The results revealed that meaning in life positively and significantly predicted persistence. Additionally , adolescents from high-income regions exhibited greater levels of persistence scores. Moderation analysis revealed that the positive association between meaning in life and persistence was stronger among adolescents from low-income regions, explaining that meaning in life is a salient internal psychological resource when economic resources are scarce. The findings provided insights on the dynamic interplay between meaning in life and socioeconomic factors in strengthening persistence among young individuals in a developing nation such as the Philippines. Implications for psychoeducational programs and interventions are discussed.
... For the purpose of this study, we define purpose as "a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self" (Damon et al., 2003, p. 121). Purpose is associated with many benefits such as increased life satisfaction (Bronk et al., 2009), well-being (Steger & Kashdan, 2013), goal directedness , personal growth (Hill et al., 2009), and resilience (Benard, 1991). While purpose has been associated with many benefits (Steger & Kashdan, 2013), the process of purpose development itself is associated with increased stress, physical health, and mental health challenges (Aftab et al., 2019;Blattner et al., 2013). ...
... Purpose is associated with many benefits such as increased life satisfaction (Bronk et al., 2009), well-being (Steger & Kashdan, 2013), goal directedness , personal growth (Hill et al., 2009), and resilience (Benard, 1991). While purpose has been associated with many benefits (Steger & Kashdan, 2013), the process of purpose development itself is associated with increased stress, physical health, and mental health challenges (Aftab et al., 2019;Blattner et al., 2013). Specifically, searching for purpose is negatively associated with self-esteem (Blattner et al., 2013). ...
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This qualitative descriptive study examined the process of purpose development of nine (seven females, two males; M age = 20.2, age range 18–21 years) college students who completed interviews in fall 2017 and spring 2019 at a private university. Across the two time points, participants engaged in an iterative process that led them to refine (i.e., narrow or specify) or redefine (i.e., change or adapt) their purpose or ultimate aims. Participants used the time between interviews to restructure their purpose in a way that integrated their experiences until they believed their purpose was best aligned with their skills, values, and interests. More specifically, consensual qualitative research analysis revealed seven themes that suggested ways in which participants acted to refine and/or redefine their purposes: (1) clarifying definition of purpose; (2) engaging known strengths or skills; (3) exploring new activities or experiences; (4) identifying a beyond-the-self intention that aligned with their purpose; (5) discerning the fit between their passions and interests with their circumstance or plans; (6) determining whether their strengths and skills aligned well with their purpose; and (7) integrating their passions into their beyond-the-self intention. A supplemental theme was added that outlines researchers’ observations about the features of participants’ purpose.
... The degree to which people understand, make sense of, or see the significance in their lives and the degree to which they believe themselves to have a purpose, mission, or overarching goal in life is defined as the presence of meaning in life. (Steger & Kashdan, 2013). Similarly, search for meaning includes both kinds of motivation when people find their lives to be meaningless and search for meaning and are motivated to continually deepen their understanding of life meaning (Steger, Kashdan, Sullivan, & Lorentz, 2008). ...
... In this way, the presence of meaning is more about where one is going. On the other hand, searching for meaning involves how one gets there (Steger & Kashdan, 2013). This also means that one can use their own criteria for meaning. ...
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Mental health incorporates emotional, psychological and social well-being. One of the essential aspects of well-being is meaning in life and refers to the sense of and significance felt regarding the nature of one’s being and existence. The well-being of service users is what counseling psychologists and mental health professionals often work for. Therefore, investigating the association between meaning in life and mental health is meaningful. This study aimed to explore the relationships between the presence of, and search for meaning in life with mental health status. Participants consisting of public health students recruited via opportunity sampling pursuing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees participated in the study. The study found a statistically significant positive correlation between meaning in life and mental health status. However, the search for meaning was significantly positively correlated to psychological well-being only. It was concluded that meaning in life and mental health are related to each other in such a way that the more meaning in life reported, the better mental health.
... With respect to hypotheses (H2) and (H3), the negative association between anxiety (H2)/depression (H3) and presence of meaning and the positive association between anxiety (H2)/depression (H3) and searching for meaning are in line with some anterior research findings. For example, people who declare being happier [112] show higher levels of general well-being [113] and life satisfaction [114][115][116], have a greater sense of control [117], feel more engaged at work [113,118], and believe that their lives are meaningful. Moreover, Pinquart [119] suggested, based on a meta-analysis of 70 studies, that experiencing a purpose in life, even differently operationalized, tends to be negatively correlated with depression. ...
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Early adulthood, between 18 and 25, is viewed as a decisive period of life for the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. Although the topic of their mutual relationship is well-known, little has been uncovered about the mechanism underlying this connection. To un-derstand the indirect pathways between anxiety and depression, we chose the sense of meaning of life as a mediator because people’s beliefs that their lives are or can be purposeful may protect against depression. The sample was composed of 277 Polish young adults. A small majority of the participants were women (58.8%). The mean age was M = 22.11 (SD = 1.72). We used in the research the Direct Behavior Rating-Scale Items Scale, the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, and the Brief Screen for Depression. Correlational analysis showed that, consistent with past findings, anxiety correlated positively with depression and searching for meaning. It was also negatively associated with presence of meaning. Moreover, depression was negatively linked to presence of meaning and positively with searching for meaning. Regression-based mediation analyses (PROCESS macro 3.4) proved that the relationship between anxiety and depression was mediated by presence of meaning in life, suggesting that having a sense of meaning may be a pathway by which feelings of tension relative to adverse events protect against depression.
... In addition, experiencing meaning appears to serve as a buffer against developing depression and anxiety (Steger et al., 2006). Of particular importance to the present study, those who report less presence of meaning in their lives report greater need for therapy (Battista & Almond, 1973), are more depressed and anxious (Comert et al., 2016), feel greater hopelessness (Krok, 2015), experience greater social dysfunction (Battersby & Phillips, 2016) and social anxiety (Steger & Kashdan, 2013). Furthermore, people with low presence of meaning in life are more likely to engage in suicidal ideation (Comert et al., 2016), report more suicide attempts (Kleiman & Beaver, 2013), and higher rates of substance misuse (Debats et al., 1993). ...
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Previous research indicates that sensation seeking, emotion dysregulation, and impulsivity are predictive of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). A body of research supports that meaning in life predicts improved mental health and well-being, including fewer suicidal thoughts and attempts, yet no research has examined the moderating effects of meaning in life on the relations between personality and temperament and NSSI. Given the growing incidence rates of NSSI among adolescents and the potential lifelong consequences of NSSI, it is imperative to better understand the factors that reduce the rates at which adolescents in a clinical sample engage in NSSI. The present study investigates if the protective factors of meaning in life moderate the relation between personality and temperament variables and NSSI among 126 adolescents (71% female, Mage = 16.1, SD = 1.1, range 13–18, 80% White) residing in an inpatient psychiatric hospital who endorsed NSSI in the last 12 months. Results from hurdle modeling indicate that two subtypes of meaning in life, presence of meaning in life and search for meaning of life, may serve as robust protective factors against engagement in NSSI among a clinical sample of adolescents. Additionally, results suggest that search for meaning, but not presence of meaning in life, variables moderate the relations between personality and temperament and NSSI. Results provide evidence that meaning in life is an understudied variable of importance in understanding how to prevent or treat NSSI. It also underscores the need to develop, refine, and test meaning-making interventions.
... (2006) başarılı kimlik geliştiren kişilerin yaşamlarında yüksek düzeyde anlama sahip olduklarını söylemektedirler. Steger (2012) ile Steger ve Kashdan (2013) yaşamda anlamın bulunabilir, oluşturulabilir ve yaratılabilir nitelikte olduğunu savunmaktadırlar. Tüm bunlardan hareketle esneklik özelliğine sahip ergenlerin araştırmacı yönleri onların yaşamlarında anlam oluşturmalarına katkı sağladığı düşünülebilir. ...
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Bu araştırmanın amacı, üst-düzey kişilik faktörleri ile yaşamda anlam arasındaki ilişkide temel psikolojik ihtiyaçların aracılık rolünün test edilmesidir. Bu çalışmaya önerilen yapısal eşitlik modellemesinin test edilmesi amacıyla 360 lise öğrencisi katılmıştır. Verilerin toplanmasında Beş Faktör Kişilik Ölçeği, Temel Psikolojik İhtiyaçlar Ölçeği ve Yaşamda Anlam Ölçeği kullanılmıştır. Verilerin analizinde SPSS 20 ve LISREL 8.80 istatistik programları kullanılmıştır. Analiz sonuçlarına göre, lise öğrencilerinin üst-düzey kişilik yapıları ile yaşamda anlamın varlığı arasındaki ilişki temel psikolojik ihtiyaçlar aracılığıyla sağlanmaktadır. Lise öğrencilerinin üst-düzey kişilik yapıları ile yaşamda anlam arayışı arasındaki ilişkide temel psikolojik ihtiyaçların aracı rolü yoktur. Ancak esneklik ve yaşamda anlam arayışı arasında pozitif yönde anlamlı bir ilişki bulunmuştur. Bu model her iki cinsiyet grubunda da aynı şekilde geçerlidir.
... On the other hand studies also showed that religion gives instruments providing meaning especially when individual search meaning in traumatic conditions such as natural disasters, bereavement, accidents (Pargament, 1997;Park, 2005;Park -Folkman, 1997). Therefore, the fact that meaning and purpose sense has positive relations with both religiosity (Francis -Hills, 2008;Krok, 2014;Lewis Hall -Hill, 2019;Park -Yoo, 2016) and mental health (Bahadır, 2011;Çamur, 2014;Homan -Boyatzis, 2010;Krause, 2003;Krok, 2014;Krok, 2018;Park, 2007;Sørensen vd., 2019;Steger -Kashdan, 2013;Steger vd., 2011;Ulu, 2018). ...
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This study aims to test the mediating role of meaning in life in the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction. The sample of the study recruited from 256 Turkish Muslim undergraduates from two different universities in Turkey. Participants were recruited through random sampling technique. The mean age of the sample, which consisted of 144 (56.3%) women and 112 (43.8%) men, was between the ages of 20-40 and was 23 (SD= 0.2065). The Multidimensional Existential Meaning Scale, Short Religiosity Scale, and Satisfaction with Life Scale are utilised in this study. Correlation analysis revealed that there is a positive correlation between religiosity, meaning in life, and satisfaction with life. Furthermore, path analysis showed that meaning in life played a partial mediating role in the effect of religiosity and life satisfaction. Öz Bu çalışma, dindarlık ile yaşamdan memnuniyet arasındaki ilişkide anlamın yaşamdaki aracı rolünü test etmeyi amaçlamaktadır. Araştırmanın örneklemi, Türkiye'deki iki farklı üniversiteden 256 Müslüman Türk lisans öğrencisinden alınmıştır. Katılımcılar tesadüfi örnekleme tekniği ile seçilmiştir. 144 (%56,3) kadın ve 112 (%43,8) erkekten oluşan ve 20-40 yaş aralığında olan örneklemin yaş ortalaması 23 (SD= 0,2065)'tür. Bu çalışmada Çok Boyutlu Varoluşsal Anlam Ölçeği, Kısa Dindarlık Ölçeği ve Yaşamdan Memnuniyet Ölçeği kullanılmıştır. Korelasyon analizi, dindarlık, hayatın anlamı ve hayattan memnuniyet arasında pozitif bir ilişki olduğunu ortaya koymuştur. Ayrıca, yol analizi, hayattaki anlamın, dindarlık ve hayattan memnuniyetine etkisinde kısmi aracı faktör olarak rol oynadığını göstermiştir.
... Academically, students with a self-transcendent purpose in learning (e.g., "I want to gain skills that I can use in a job that help others"), compared to those with a self-oriented purpose (e.g., "I want to learn more about my interests"), resulted in better grades, higher academic self-regulation and increased persistence in learning (Yeager et al., 2014). Linking to well-being, purposeful and prosocial individuals reported positive life outcomes, including higher life satisfaction (Steger & Kashdan, 2013), lower depression (Disabato et al., 2017), and lower mortality rate (Brown et al., 2003;Oman et al., 1999). ...
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In response to the increasing demand of mental health solutions, Purdue University launched the Steps to Leaps initiative in 2019 to promote student well-being. It provided the tools and resources to build students’ resilience skills and establish lifelong habits to help them realize their personal definitions of success. Working collaboratively with students, faculty, and front- line staff, the initiative identified five pillars, to address these concerns: well-being, leadership/professional development, impact, networks and grit. This article briefly outlined the program implementation and provides relevant theoretical frameworks in a case study format. It then summarized twelve key lessons learned from the two years of practice and concluded with a community perspective.
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Achieving a sense of life meaning has been proposed as an evolutionary adaptation that promotes the human need for self-actualization. This study explores how various dimensions of religiosity are associated with life purpose during emerging adulthood, a stage of the life course where religious decline and the search for meaning and purpose intersect. Prior studies on this topic, however, have typically not accounted for across-time fluctuations in religiosity. Therefore, using two waves of data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) (2005-2008), we consider how changes in religious attendance and perceived closeness with God are associated with changes in life meaning and purpose. Results suggest that consistent or increasing attendance and closeness with God predict greater life purpose, while declines in attendance associate with lower purpose. We discuss possible mechanism that may underlie our findings within the current religious climate of the United States.
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We analyzed the relationship between post-critical beliefs and the quality and stability of marriage, taking into account the mediating function of attitude and the tendency to forgive. The sample consisted of 122 predominantly Roman Catholic respondents. We used the Marriage Quality and Stability Scale, the Post-Critical Belief Scale and the Attitude and Tendency to Forgive Scale. Correlation analysis showed a significant positive relationship between Symbolic Affirmation and stability of marriage. Mediation analysis demonstrated that the relationship between Symbolic Affirmation and stability of marriage was mediated by attitude toward forgiveness. The results suggest that religiousness plays a role in predicting stability of marriage and that attitude towards forgiveness is a mediator explaining the mechanism of this relationship.
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The experience of meaning is often conceptualized as involving reliable pattern or coherence. However, research has not addressed whether exposure to pattern or coherence influences the phenomenological experience of meaning in life. Four studies tested the prediction that exposure to objective coherence (vs. incoherence) would lead to higher reports of meaning in life. In Studies 1 and 2 (combined N = 214), adults rated photographs of trees presented in patterns (organized around their seasonal content) or randomly. Participants in the pattern conditions reported higher meaning in life than those in the random conditions. Studies 3 and 4 (combined N = 229) yielded similar results when participants read coherent, as opposed to incoherent, linguistic triads. The manipulations did not influence explicit or implicit affect. Implications for understanding the human experience of meaning, the processes that support that experience, and its potential role in adaptation are discussed.
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The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) was developed to assess satisfaction with the respondent’s life as a whole. The scale does not assess satisfaction with life domains such as health or finances but allows subjects to integrate and weight these domains in whatever way they choose. Normative data are presented for the scale, which shows good convergent validity with other scales and with other types of assessments of subjective well-being. Life satisfaction as assessed by the SWLS shows a degree of temporal stability (e.g., 54 for 4 years), yet the SWLS has shown sufficient sensitivity to be potentially valuable to detect change in life satisfaction during the course of clinical intervention. Further, the scale shows discriminant validity from emotional well-being measures. The SWLS is recommended as a complement to scales that focus on psychopathology or emotional well-being because it assesses an individuals’ conscious evaluative judgment of his or her life by using the person’s own criteria.
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Meaning in life, spirituality, and religiousness have been empirically linked in previous research. This study aimed to advance knowledge of the interrelations among these variables by examining their heritable and non-heritable sources of influence, as well as the genetic and environmental contributions to their inter-relations. A sample of 343 middle-aged twins drawn from the Minnesota Twin Registry completed measures of meaning in life and spirituality. There was evidence that religiousness, spirituality, and meaning in life shared common genetic and environmental influences, suggesting that these people's attitudes concerning these variables may arise from shared factors. These results provide novel evidence of a shared genetic substrate for meaning in life, religiousness, and spirituality, and support the possibility that people's basic attitudes about the meaning of existence are commonly rooted in evolved biological factors and conjointly influenced through people's experiences with life.
Article
In this chapter, it is argued that meaning in life is an important variable for human well-being. Literature supporting this contention is reviewed, and complexities regarding defining meaning in life are discussed. Definitions of meaning have focused on several components, two of which appear central and unique to meaning in life, suggesting a conceptual framework of meaning in life comprised of two pillars: comprehension and purpose. Comprehension encompasses people's ability to find patterns, consistency, and significance in the many events and experiences in their lives, and their synthesis and distillation of the most salient, important, and motivating factors. People face the challenge of understanding their selves, the world around them, and their unique niche and interactions within the world, and the notion of comprehension unifies these domains of understanding. Purpose refers to highly motivating, long-term goals about which people are passionate and highly committed. In the framework presented in this chapter, it is suggested that people devote significant resources to the pursuit of their purposes and that the most effective and rewarding purposes arise from and are congruent with people's comprehension of their lives. Literature is reviewed regarding where meaning might come from, and other dimensions of meaning are considered (i.e., sources of meaning and search for meaning). Suggestions for future research are proposed.
Article
Recent studies have found that temporal variability and reactivity in self-esteem (SE) are associated with risk for depressive symptoms subsequent to life stress. It is unclear, however, whether it is variability uniquely in SE that is critical, or whether variability in other domains, such as specific self-evaluation (SSE) and affect, would show similar effects. Further, the specificity of these effects to depression is unknown. In the present study, initially nondepressed women completed 7 daily ratings of SE, SSE, and affect. Over a 6-week prospective interval, the interactions of stressful life events and variability in both SE and SSE predicted changes in depression, particularly in individuals with more severe worst Lifetime episodes of depressive symptoms. These effects were independent of average level of SE and SSE, as well as neuroticism and self-concept uncertainty In contrast, variability in affect failed to predict changes in depression in interaction with life stress. Finally, none of the predictor variables interacted with stressful life events in predicting changes in anxiety.
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