International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Clarifying Personal Meaning: Reflections on the 2012 International Meaning Conference of the INPM

Gordon Medlock, Ph.D

Wright Graduate University


This article was inspired by the questions and themes at the Meaning Conference organized by the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) in 2012. It identifies an emerging consensus regarding the meaning of personal meaning as a motivational construct, and demonstrates its connection to other closely related motivational theories, including self-determination theory, positive psychology, humanistic psychology, interpersonal neurobiology, and narrative approaches to self integration. Specifically it explores the definition of personal meaning as involving a sense of purpose and coherence in orienting individuals to future possibilities and providing a basis for hope in the fulfillment of their aspirations. It identifies a cognitive-behavioral bias in the field, focusing on goal-focused behavior and neglecting the emotional and interpersonal dimensions of personal meaning. The article demonstrates how the relationship factor, specifically self-defining dialogue with significant others, needs to be considered as an essential component of personal meaning. This includes experiences of communicative interaction with others, through which individuals construct personal meaning and come to a clearer understanding of who they are and what they believe and value. The article goes on to demonstrate how a meaning-oriented approach can clarify basic concepts in self-determination theory and positive psychology, particularly the constructs of autonomy, authenticity, relationship, and the actualizing tendency of the human psyche. It concludes with an analysis of the concept of higher purpose as it relates to the ideal of self-actualization, including Frankl’s interpretation of the tension between those two principles.

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