International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

The Commonplace Experience of Meaning in Life

Laura King, Ph.D

University of Missouri


Popular and scholarly treatments of meaning in life often focus on this aspect of experience when it is missing, searched for, or in need of creation. In this article, I propose that if, as many believe, meaning in life is essential for human adaptation, it must be commonplace, just as other necessities are commonplace. I assert that, at least in terms of its cognitive component, meaning in life is, in fact, the default of human existence: Like oxygen, our bodies are wired to procure it from an environment that is filled with it. I review research that shows the sensitivity of meaning in life ratings to manipulations of variables that are themselves potentially trivial (such as positive mood) or quite common (the presence of pattern and coherence in stimuli). I review, as well, evidence for the notion that meaning in life levels, as endorsed by participants in a range of studies, is not horrifically low, but rather moderately high. I close by considering the implications of this approach for the apparently insatiable human need for meaning in life.

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