• meaning in life;
  • assessment instruments;
  • systematic review;
  • cancer;
  • oncology;
  • palliative care



The construct of “meaning in life” (MiL) has raised the interest of clinicians working in psycho-oncology and end-of-life care. It has become a topic of scientific investigation where diverse assessment approaches have been applied. Aims: We present a comprehensive systematic review of existing MiL assessment instruments.


Electronic searches of articles published in English peer-reviewed journals were performed in Psycinfo, Medline, Embase and Cinahl. Instruments are appraised with regard to ten measurement properties.


In total, 59 nomothetic and idiographic MiL instruments were identified. Most instruments were developed in North America and meet basic psychometric criteria. They assess presence of and search for MiL, crisis and sources of MiL, meaning making, meaningful activity, MiL in the context of illness, breadth, depth, and other structural indicators. These aspects are largely consistent with existing MiL definitions. Nine out of 59 instruments included cancer populations in test development.


This overview of available instruments underscores the complexity of the construct and might assist researchers to select an appropriate instrument for their research needs. Finally, it points to the need for more integrative theorizing and research on MiL. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.