International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Identity and Meaning: Contrasts of Existentialist and Essentialist Perspectives

Alan S. Waterman, Ph.D

The College of New Jersey

Abstract

At first glance, the tasks of establishing a sense of personal identity and finding meaning in life would appear to be quite closely related. Both appear to be ways of addressing some of life’s paramount questions: “Who am I?” and “What should I be doing with my life?” Yet until quite recently, the development of psychological theory and empirical research on the two concepts proceeded largely independently. To understand the parallel but independent histories of identity and meaning, it is helpful to examine not only their respective definitions, but the manner in which they were introduced into the field and the differences in their underlying philosophical foundations. It is my hope that through a better understanding of the nature and histories of the two constructs, a more effective coordination and integration can be achieved.

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