December 10, 2019
2 min read

Perceived meaning in life associated with better health outcomes

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

Awais Aftab

The presence of and search for meaning in life may impact health and well-being, with a significant difference in this association for adults younger than vs. older than age 60 years, according to cross-sectional data published in Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

“Many in the medical field tend to dismiss the importance of positive psychological attributes such as meaning in life, optimism, resilience, wisdom, etc., as unrelated to physical and mental health,” Awais Aftab, MD, of the department of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, told Healio Psychiatry. “I think our study shows that medicine cannot ignore these aspects of our lives. How much meaning we have in our lives has a bearing on how healthy we are.”

To examine the relationship between perception of meaning and overall health, Aftab and colleagues analyzed data from 1,042 adults aged 21 to older than 100 years who were included in the Successful Aging Evaluation — a multicohort study of community-dwelling residents of San Diego County. They assessed presence of meaning and search for meaning using the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, which included 10 self-reported items related to meaning. They measured physical and mental well-being using the Short Form 36 Health Survey, which uses self-reporting to divide general health into a mental and a physical component summary. Lastly, they screened for overall cognitive function using a 25-minute, 12-item structure interview called the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status- modified.

Aftab and colleagues found that search for meaning showed a U-shaped relationship with age whereas presence of meaning showed an inverted U-shaped relationship. Around age 60, presence of meaning peaked and search for meaning reached the lowest point. Further, physical well-being correlated negatively with age and positively with presence. Mental well-being was positively associated with age and presence and negatively with search, whereas cognitive function correlated inversely with age, the researchers noted. Significant covariates of search and presence exhibited small effect sizes, but satisfaction with life and presence in adults aged more than 60 years exhibited medium effect size.

“Our findings are important because they have several potential implications for efforts to understand and improve health outcomes,” Aftab said. “People with low presence of meaning in their lives or those with high search for meaning may possibly be at higher risk for poor physical, mental and cognitive health, and assessment of meaning in life could be a way of identifying who is vulnerable.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at time of publication.