International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Meaning and Spirituality: A Thematic Analysis

Dorothy J. Steffler, Ph.D

Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Kenneth C. Murdoch, M.Ed.

Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


This study explored how adults think about the concepts of meaning and spirituality, how they describe their own meaningful and spiritual experiences, and whether they believe meaning and spirituality are connected. A diverse sample of 128 participants between the ages of 18 and 93 years responded to seven open-ended questions either in a face-to-face or telephone interview, or an online survey. Participants who identified themselves as either spiritual or non-spiritual responded to the questionnaire. Through qualitative thematic analysis, we identified five themes for each concept: ultimate concerns integrity, service and care for others, health and wellbeing, generativity (meaning), and death and afterlife (spirituality). There was considerable commonality in how respondents described meaningful and spiritual experiences. Self-transcendence was identified as an overarching category that linked these two constructs. Regardless of the language used to express meaningful and/or spiritual experiences, the themes were consistent, encompassing personal, communal, and transcendent realities.

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