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The University of Southampton

Meaning in Misery: Stressful Situations as a Platform for Meaning in Life

Jacob Juhl

University of Southampton

Can people perceive meaning in life (MIL) in affectively negative circumstances? This may seem counterintuitive, given the connection between positive affect and MIL. However, in a prospective design, we tested whether people can perceive MIL while experiencing stress. We assessed college students’ trait levels of positive affect, negative affect, and MIL. Then, at a later date, we assessed their state levels of college stress, perceptions of goal-engagement, positive affect, negative affect, and MIL. While controlling for trait levels variables, college stress predicted increased negative affect and contributed to elevated perceptions of goal engagement, which in turn contributed to higher MIL and subsequently positive affect. Individuals can attain MIL in affectively negative habitats.

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