The Meaning in Life and how you may find this through the Meaningful Photos PPI.

by Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee (www.yourwellbeing.doctor)

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A catalogue of micro-traumas or continued period of adversity, can have the effect of negatively impacting on one’s morale, self-esteem and productivity, whereby the summative negative value of the experiences is far greater than can be imagined.

This may be a situation that many of us are finding ourselves in at the present moment with the impact that COVID-19 is having on both our personal and professional lives. This pandemic seems to be testing us all in ways that we had never thought imaginable and we are constantly, on a minute by minute basis, having to make decisions where we are emotionally, psychologically, mentally and intellectually challenged. There is no let up. So how can we shift our perspective a little, to give us some fuel in our resilience reservoir to better face the day ahead?

I wanted to share some learnings from my own personal journey which I hope may support you, should you find these helpful.

Humans over centuries have discussed a phenomenon known as “transformational growth” (Ivtzan et al., 2015, p 75) which in metaphorical term is akin to a phoenix rising out of the ashes.

The Meaning in Life.

There are multiple definitions of meaning in life, but several hypotheses about how this “meaning” can be realised by people. Literature derived two common factors; that meaning in life is crucial to humanistic theories and that “there is no universal meaning that can fit everyone’s life” (Steger et al., 2006 p65; Frankl, 1965). An important reflection was that, despite Frankl’s highly revered work surrounding the search for meaning in life, this dimension had been neglected from measures of objectively quantifying meaning in life.

Steger et al., (2006) considered many theories and works, finally defining presence of meaning in life as “the sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one’s being and existence” (Steger et al., 2006, p81) and search for meaning in life was the consideration of “the drive and orientation toward finding meaning in one’s life” (Steger et al., 2006, p85).

Although comprehensive definitions for presence of meaning in life and search for meaning in life were provided, it needs to be considered that the overall concept and interpretation has different meanings for people. Several factors and life events can impact and influence a person’s life journey, influencing their view on life.

The Meaningful Photos Positive Psychology Intervention (PPI).

Steger et al., 2014, proposed and researched the “Meaningful Photos” PPI, which is a version of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It is said that this PPI works by recalibrating what is truly meaningful to the person taking part in the PPI as they are engaging with what they hold dear in their lives. The PPI has been shown to support people to “live more authentically…according to their identity and values” (Hayes & Strohsal, 2010, as cited in Steger et al., 2014, p 27). It is thought that by engaging in purposeful activity surrounding the meaning in life, those participating will develop a clearer insight and understanding of the importance in their lives which will in turn serve to provide better alignment with ones values and identity.

When there is a conscious recognition and understanding of the sense of meaning in life, one is able to harness this as a means from which to draw resource, demonstrating resilience. This can be highly beneficial in situations of adversity, specifically at this moment in time in relation to COVID-19. We can therefore, delineate that connecting with ones’ meaning, purpose and values may have future long-term benefits. 

How do I use this PPI?

Meaning in life can be explored using photography as conducted by Steger et al., (2014).

I invite you at any point in time (Time 1) to take around 9-12 photographs of  “things that make your life feel meaningful”. I understand at this point you may be limited in what you can take photos of. I would therefore adapt this in this situation and invite you to consider looking at google images of things that you believe bring meaning to your life, or look/collect old photos. After this, complete the Meaning in Life Questionnaire attached and note your scores down.

A week later, (Time 2), look at photographs/images and ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What does this photo represent?”
  • “Why is the photo meaningful?”.

And once again, complete the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and look at your scores and consider how they have changed.

If you don’t have time, you don’t need to do the questionnaires, just look at the photos and reflect on how they make you feel and consider how this has changed in the last week specifically considering your mood, positivity, thoughts, values and connections with others.

Personally, the brevity of the intervention made it easy for me to accept and accommodate into my daily routine and I found that the PPI was not labour or time intensive and only lasted the amount of time it took to take the 9-12 photos.

Considerations:

I hope that if you consider undertaking this PPI you may find it helpful. This can specifically focus one’s attention on being in tune with their authentic self and thus promote the development of positive emotions. Positive emotions can serve to provide a foundation of resilience allowing one to feel more stable, secure and comfortable with themselves.

The positivity that can be embraced serves to develop and work with our own neuroplasticity, thereby forms new neural connections from which it becomes easier to think laterally and see the wider context of life. These traits can serve as a buffer, protecting us from difficult events.  

REFERENCES:

Boniwell, I., Tunariu, A. D., (2019). Positive Psychology Theory, Research and Applications. London: Open University Press

Tunariu, A.D., Boniwell, I., Ruffion, A. and Clamy-Sebag, V. (2017) Towards Sustainable Prevention of Youth Radicalization. The Philosophical Dialogues Program – An existential positive psychology intervention for resilience, wellbeing and affirmative mindset. Manual, materials and training (English and French) Nice: UNISMED and London: UEL

Calhoun, L. G., Tedeschi, R. G. (2006). The foundations of posttraumatic growth: An expanded framework. In L. G. Calhoun & R. G.Tedeschi (Eds.), Handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research and practice (pp. 1–23). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

Dickerhoof, R., Lyubomirsky, S., & Sheldon, K. M. (2007). How and Why Do Intentional Activities Work to Boost Well-Being?: An Experimental Longitudinal Investigation of Regularly Practicing Optimism and Gratitude. forthcoming. Cited from Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Is It Possible to Become Happier? (And If So, How?). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1(1), 129–145.

Frankl, V. E. (1965). The doctor and the soul: From psychotherapy to logotherapy. New York: Vintage Books

Fredrickson, B. L. (2000). Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being. Prevention & Treatment, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/1522-3736.3.1.31a

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology. The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. The American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.56.3.218

Hayes, S.C., Strohsal, K.D. (2010). A practical guide to acceptance and commitment therapy. NewYork: Springer

Ivtzan, I., Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Worth, P. (2015). Second Wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life. Routledge: London. New York.

Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2004). Positive Change Following Trauma and Adversity: A Review. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17(1), 11–21. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JOTS.0000014671.27856.7e

Luoma, J.B., Hayes, S.C., Walser, R. (2007). Learning ACT. Oakland: New Harbinger.

Sin, N. L., Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467–487.

Steger, M. F. (2009). Meaning in life. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook

of positive psychology (pp. 679–687). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steger, M. F. (2012). Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of well-

being, psychopathology, and spirituality. In P. T. Wong (Ed.), The Human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (pp. 165–184). New York: Routledge.

Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Kaler, M., & Oishi, S. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(1), 80–93. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.53.1.80

Steger, M. A., Oishi, S., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Meaning in life across the life span: Levels and correlates of meaning in life from emerging adulthood to older adulthood. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 43–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760802303127

Steger, M. F., Shim, Y., Barenz, J., & Shin, J. Y. (2014). Through the windows of the soul: A pilot study using photography to enhance meaning in life. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 27–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcbs.2013.11.002

Steger, M. F., Shin, J. Y., Shim, Y., & Fitch-Martin, A. (2013). Is meaning in life a flagship indicator of well-being? In A. S. Waterman (Ed.), The Best Within Us: Positive Psychology Perspectives on Eudaimonia (p. 159–182). Washington DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14092-009

Triplett, K. N., Tedeschi, R. G., Cann, A., Calhoun, L. G., & Reeve, C. L. (2011). Posttraumatic growth, meaning in life, and life satisfaction in response to trauma. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(4), 400–410. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024204

Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Barrett, L. F. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotion granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of Personality 72 (6), 1161-1190.

Westermarck, E. (1932). Ethical relativity. London: Kegan Paul.

Wong, P. (2009) Existential Psychology in S. Lopez (ed). The Encyclopedia of Psychology.

Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Appendix A

 MEANING IN LIFE QUESTIONNIARE (MLQ)

Reference:

Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80-93.

Description of Measure:

A 10-item questionnaire designed to measure two dimensions of meaning in life: (1) Presence of Meaning (how much respondents feel their lives have meaning), and (2) Search for Meaning (how much respondents strive to find meaning and understanding in their lives). Respondents answer each item on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Absolutely True) to 7 (Absolutely Untrue).

The Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ) is a 10-item self-report inventory designed to measure life meaning. The MLQ has good internal consistency, with coefficient alphas ranging in the low to high .80s for the Presence subscale and mid .80s to low .90s for the Search subscale. A main focus of logotherapy is the discovery of life meaning. Along these lines, logotherapy posits that: (1) there is meaning in life, (2) people are motivated by the Will to Meaning, and (3) people are free to find their own meaning. Since the MLQ is a new instrument that was developed predominantly with female, Caucasian, undergraduate student samples, further research is necessary to investigate the measure’s psychometric properties with diverse populations.

Scale

Please take a moment to think about what makes your life and existence feel important and significant to you. Please respond to the following statements as truthfully and accurately as you can, and also please remember that these are very subjective questions and that there are no right or wrong answers. Please answer according to the scale below:

Absolutely Mostly Somewhat Can’t Say Somewhat Mostly Absolutely

Untrue Untrue True or False True True True

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

_____1. I understand my life’s meaning.

_____2. I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful.

_____3. I am always looking to find my life’s purpose.

_____4. My life has a clear sense of purpose.

_____5. I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful.

_____6. I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.

_____7. I am always searching for something that makes my life feel significant.

_____8. I am seeking a purpose or mission for my life.

_____9. My life has no clear purpose.

_____10. I am searching for meaning in my life.

Scoring:

Item 9 is reverse scored.

Items 1, 4, 5, 6, & 9 make up the Presence of Meaning subscale

Items 2, 3, 7, 8, & 10 make up the Search for Meaning subscale

Scoring is kept continuous.

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