The Positive Psychology of Meaning in Life and Well-Being

Mar 1, 2014 | Articles


Evidence is accumulating that demonstrates the important role of personal meaning in well-being and quality of life. This paper introduces a meaning-centered model of well-being consisting of three factors: positive affect, personal growth and reduction of negativity. I propose that a complete positive psychology of flourishing encompass three overlapping systems: (a) the three factors of welling-being, (b) the positive triad of resilience, and (c) the dual-system of managing approach and avoidance.

The Meaning of Meaning

A proper understanding of the relationship between meaning in life and well-being needs to distinguish between specific meaning and global meaning (Park & Folkman, 1997), situational meaning and ultimate meaning (Frankl, 1985), or situational meaning and existential meaning (Reker & Chamberlain, 2000; Reker & Wong, in press). In this paper, meaning in life refers to both situational meaning and existential meaning.

Reker and Wong (1988) define personal meaning as the “cognizance of order, coherence and purpose in one’s existence, the pursuit and attainment of worthwhile goals, and an accompanying sense of fulfillment” (p. 221). Wong (1989) defines personal meaning as a socially and individually constructed system, which endows life with personal significance. This meaning system includes five components: affective, motivational, cognitive, relational, and personal (i.e., personal characteristics and status in life (Wong, 1998).

According to Steger (in press), meaning in life consists of cognitive (comprehension) and motivational (purpose) components. Alternatively, meaning of life can be conceptualized as meeting four basic needs: purpose, efficacy or control, value and justification, and self-worth (Baumeister, 1991)...

An abridged version of this encyclopedia entry is published as Wong, P. T. P. (2014). Meaning in life. In A. C. Michalos (Ed.), Encyclopedia of quality of life and well-being research (pp. 3894-3898). New York, NY: Springer.

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