The Science of Meaning in Life

Annu Rev Psychol. 2021 Jan 4;72:561-584. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-072420-122921. Epub 2020 Sep 8.


Meaning in life has long been a mystery of human existence. In this review, we seek to demystify this construct. Focusing on the subjective experience of meaning in life, we review how it has been measured and briefly describe its correlates. Then we review evidence that meaning in life, for all its mystery, is a rather commonplace experience. We then define the construct and review its constituent facets: comprehension/coherence, purpose, and existential mattering/significance. We review the many experiences that have been shown to enhance meaning in life and close by considering important remaining research questions about this fascinating topic.

Keywords: existential psychology; meaning in life; meaning making; positive affect; purpose; well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Existentialism*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*