Brief notes on the operationalization of meaning in life (by Steger)

Here, meaning is discussed with respect to the personal meaning of our everyday life, rather than the broader meaning of life (of universe and evolution) and existence. Based on The Psychology Podcast episode 136 between Scott Barry Kaufman and Michael Steger.

The study of meaning in life spans across psychology, philosophy, and social sciences, but tensions still exist in how different fields approach, understand, and study meaning, specifically between subjective and objective measurements as well as our very own understanding of meaning in everyday life. What does it mean to have found meaning in life and live a good life (the Hitler problem). What strengths does having a meaning in life give us (the stories of the Holocaust survivors).

Steger decomposes meaning into three main aspects:

  1. significance: our existence matters, and life is worth living.
  2. coherence: we can make sense of our life experience and identity.
  3. purpose: we strive for a greater goal across our lifetime.

We can have one or more of these dimensions of meaning. For example, we may possess a strong purpose without a great sense of significance or coherence. Certainly that’s what I have felt. Having a sense of purpose (or tricking ourselves into believing that we do) could enable us to live.

In related notes, life satisfaction may be different from meaning, where life satisfaction may be easier to achieve than meaning, although correlation exists between life satisfaction, positive emotion, and meaning. In general, someone who enjoys life also finds meaning in life. Meaning thus can be defined as enduring well-being.

The meaning in life changes as we fulfill our needs, grow and mature, and integrate various aspects and identities of our lives. The sources of meaning may be found in a wide range of social contexts, and meaning might operate more broadly in the contexts of parenting, psychotherapy, and business, etc.

How shall we find significance, coherence, and purpose in this modern world?

Photo by Ryan Booth on Unsplash
The Psychology Podcast ep.136: Meaning, Purpose, and Significance.