Meaninglessness in the second half of life: the development of a construct

Int J Aging Hum Dev. 1998;47(2):81-104. doi: 10.2190/W2XN-BBJM-MF4Y-ADEC.


A new construct of meaninglessness in the second half of life was presented. We found that four theoretically based components of the construct of meaninglessness were expressed in the self- and life-descriptions of 95 percent of 153 Dutch independently living aged adults (age between 58 to 90 years old). The self- and life-descriptions were assessed by a content analysis of participants' answers on a sentence completion questionnaire for personal meaning (SELE). With respect to the content of the components of meaninglessness, we found that a lack of goals and an impoverishment of meaning was responsible for most motivational meaninglessness. On the affective level, meaninglessness is far more characterized by dejection-related emotions, than by agitation-related emotions. Alienation from one's self, others, or society appeared to be characteristic for most of the cognitive component of meaninglessness. The self-evaluative component was mainly characterized by low self-esteem. A tentative explanation was presented for the differences in proportion of each of the components, pointing to the cumulative character of the construct itself. Meaninglessness correlates positively with the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) (r = .37, p < .01) and negatively with the Sense of Coherence Questionnaire (SOCQ) (r = -.31, p < .01), which contributes to the cross-validation of the construct.

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Depression
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Middle Aged
  • Self-Assessment