Understanding the Search for Meaning in Life: Personality, Cognitive Style, and the Dynamic Between Seeking and Experiencing Meaning


  • Our gratitude to Kirsten Sundell for her comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Michael F. Steger, Educational & Counseling Psychology, College of Education and Human Development, Room 308, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292. E-mail: michael_f_steger@yahoo.com.


ABSTRACT Although several theories assert that understanding the search for meaning in life is important, empirical research on this construct is sparse. Three studies provide the first extensive effort to understand the correlates of the search for meaning in a multistudy research program. Assessed were relations between search for meaning and well-being, cognitive style, and the Big Five, Big Three, Approach/Avoidance, and Interest models of personality, with a particular emphasis on understanding the correlates of search for meaning that are independent of presence of meaning. Conceptual models of the relation between search and presence were tested. Findings suggest that people lacking meaning search for it; the search for meaning did not appear to lead to its presence. Study 3 found that basic motive dispositions moderated relations between search for meaning and its presence. Results highlight the importance of basic personality dispositions in understanding the search for meaning and its correlates.