Positive Living in Difficult Times

Covid-19 as a Resource to Redefine Meaning in Life in Intercultural Perspective

Claude-Hélène Mayer

There is not one big

cosmic meaning for all;

there is only the meaning

we each give to our life,

an individual meaning,

an individual plot,

like an individual novel,

a book for each person.

Anaïs Nin, 1931-1934

Since the start of COVID-19 many changes have occurred, both in workplaces and in broader societies all around the world, due to social distancing, travel restrictions, virtual work, and new rules and regulations of traveling. At the same time, these changes have had a strong impact on psychological health and well-being and have spiked discourses on meaning and meaning-making during the time of the pandemic (Mayer, 2021). These discourses will still be continuing in a post-pandemic world.

During Covid-19–and also in retrospect–the pandemic has been described as a source of pain and suffering in regards to its primary and secondary effects on individuals and societies (Meulders et al., 2022). Further, with the increase in physical and psychological pain, research has pointed out that individuals experiencing the pain connected to Covid-19 experience decreased quality of life and mental health (Inglesias-López et al., 2021).

Even in a post-pandemic situation, many individuals will still struggle with the experiences made in times of Covid-19 and suffer from adjustment difficulties and lingering health problems, severe chronic grief, and post-traumatic stress. If not addressed proactively, many individuals will keep on experiencing emptiness, sadness, loneliness, and loss of meaning as experienced during Covid-19 (Jong et al., 2020).

Simultaneously, research has shown that self-perceived meaning in life predicted less stress and worry associated with Covid-19 experiences (Humphrey & Vari, 2021) and that the experience of Covid-19 could also be used to create new reflections and ideas on core concepts of meaning-making in the life of individuals (Mayer, 2021). Particularly life-crafting interventions, such as positive psychology, expressive writing, and salutogenesis support the creating of goals and plans to overcome psychological and emotional obstacles and re-create meaning in life (Jong et al., 2020). Mayer (2021) has also pointed out that reflecting and reading philosophical texts can support the re-creation of meaning in a world of extreme changes and loss, since the exploration of philosophical ideas on life and death, absurdity and meaning, freedom and existential ideas in general can provide the subjective feeling of connection with philosophies, philosophers and individual and collective ideas on how to deal with the pandemic in retrospect. Wong (2020) has described numerous ways of dealing with the challenges of Covid-19 from an existential meaning therapy perspective and how to recreate and reinstall optimism, joy, and resilience in a post-pandemic world. Generally, the experience of pain and suffering can be used for future individual and collective growth, reflection, and thereby for an increase in meaning-centered wellbeing (Wong et al., 2021), a reset of values and a new, meaning-orientated outlook on life and death. Surely, the pandemic can be viewed in retrospect as a wake-up call for Western societies and their approach to life and death (Friedman, 2020), however, it can also be used as a wake-up to explore other culture-specific ways of dealing with core existential issues and to learn from other cultures in terms of existential meaning-making. Therefore, it is argued here that the post-pandemic situation is not only a key to rethinking personal, individual, and collective core values and concepts of existence and meaning-making, but also a key to exploring different cultural concepts and foster a deeper understanding of cultural views on life and death and thereby core concepts of humanity.


Friedman U. (2020). Why America is uniquely unsuited to dealing with the Coronavirus. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-united-states-vulnerable-pandemic/608686/

Humphrey, A., & Vari, O. (2021). Meaning matters: Self-Perceived meaning in life, its predictors and psychological stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Behav. Science, 11(50). https://doi.org/ 10.3390/bs11040050

De Jong, E. M., Ziegler, N., & Schippers, M. C. (2020). From shattered goals to meaning in life: Life crafting in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Front Psychol. 11: 577708. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.577708

Iglesias-López, E., García-Isidoro, .S, C., Castellanos-Sánchez, V. O. (2021). COVID-19 pandemic: Pain, quality of life and impact on public health in the confinement in Spain. Ann Palliat Med, 10(4), 4338-4353. https://doi.org/10.21037/apm-20-2514

Mayer, C. -H. (2021). Albert Camus – A psychobiographical approach in times of Covid-19. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.644579

Meulders, A., Vlaeyen, J. W. S., Evers, A. W. M., Köke, A. J. A., Smeets, R. J .E. M., Van Zundert, J. H. M., Verbunt, J. M. C. F., & Van Ryckeghem, D. M. L (2022). Chronic primary pain in the COVID-19 pandemic: How uncertainty and stress impact on functioning and suffering. Pain, 1, 163(4), 604–609. https: //doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002428. PMID: 34382606.

Wong, P. J. P. (2020). Made for resilience and happiness: Effective coping with COVID-19 according to Viktor E. Frankl and Paul T. P. Wong.

Wong, P. J. P., Mayer, C. -H. & Arslan, G. (2020). Editorial: COVID-19 and existential positive psychology (PP 2.0): The new science of self-transcendence. Front Psychol., 12: 800308. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.800308