First, meaning is important. Perceptions of meaning in life influence a wide range of life outcomes. People who have a strong sense of meaning in life, compared to those who lack meaning, are less vulnerable to mental health problems, more responsive to treatment when they do face mental health problems, better able to cope with trauma and loss, less inclined to abuse drugs and alcohol, less likely to desire, attempt, or die by suicide, less hostile and aggressive towards others, physically healthier, and live longer.
Meaning likely contributes to many of these outcomes because of its motivational power. When people feel meaningful, they are inspired, energized, and optimistic. In addition, life is full of temptations and distractions. It is easy to privilege immediate preference and pleasure over the longer term pursuits that promote physical, mental, and social health, particularly if these pursuits are difficult or unpleasant. In such situations, meaning is a vital psychological resource. It helps people regulate their behavior in constructive ways. For instance, a recent study…of physically inactive adults who had the intention to increase physical activity found that they were more likely to visit fitness centers and exercise for longer periods of time if they had meaning on their minds.
As another way to examine the potential motivational power of meaning, my colleagues and I have been conducting studies on how mentally revisiting meaningful past experiences (nostalgic reflection) influences motivation and goal pursuit using diverse empirical methods involving self-report, behavioral, observational, and neuroscientific measures. We find that when people mentally revisit cherished life experiences—meaningful memories—they subsequently feel more motivated to actively pursue life goals, especially if those goals are focused on friendship, family, and community. They also generally feel more inspired and display patterns of neuro-electrical activity consistent with a motivational model of meaning.
This brings us to the idea that we are facing or approaching a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world.
”People who have a strong sense of meaning in life are less vulnerable to mental health problems, better able to cope with trauma and loss, less inclined to abuse drugs and alcohol, less likely to desire, attempt, or die by suicide, and live longer.” https://t.co/EVmKMqLTEa
— W Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) April 27, 2019