International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Is Searching for Meaning in Life Associated with Reduced Subjective and Psychological Well-Being?

Karen Cohen

Macquarie University

David Cairns

Macquarie University


Over the past forty years research has attempted to understand and define the concept of meaning in life.  A variety of definitions of meaning in life have been proposed but all theories agree that meaning in life is an important factor which contributes to well-being.  Studies have endeavoured to identify what gives meaning to life, to whether having meaning in life brings positive returns and to what life is like without meaning.  Factors such as being in a stable relationship, having experienced a loss or being involved in a religion, have been suggested as possible influences on how individuals experience meaning in life and why they may search for meaning.  Theory has speculated that if an individual is searching for meaning in life, that they may be distressed.  Not having meaning in life has been shown to impact negatively on well-being, but what is happening for an individual who is searching is unclear.
This study investigated the hypothesized two-dimensional typology of the presence and searching subscales in the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and examined the relationship between presence of, and search for meaning in life and subjective and psychological well-being.  Utilizing a survey design, 106 participants completed the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and the Depression Happiness Scale.  Pearson’s correlation and a bivariate scatterplot support the independence of the two-dimensional typology.  Statistical analysis revealed significant main effects for presence of, and search for, meaning in life on depression/happiness scores as well as for the interaction between presence, search and depression/happiness levels.  Participants who reported high levels of search for meaning and low levels of presence of meaning in life recorded clinical levels of depression.  Surprisingly, participants who reported high levels of presence of, and search for meaning in life also recorded high subjective well-being.  Only when presence of meaning in life is low does searching appear to impact on recorded levels of well-being.  Possible theoretical frameworks which may explain these results and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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