Meaning in Life: Is It a Protective Factor for Adolescents’ Psychological Health?

  • László Brassai
  • Bettina F. Piko
  • Michael F. Steger



Searching for a coherent meaning in life has long been proposed to be a protective factor in adolescent development.


The present study aimed to examine meaning in life as a protective factor in a largely unstudied population: Romanian adolescents. Additionally, we sought to provide a novel, multidimensional assessment of several health-related variables (substance abuse, health risk behaviors, psychological health). Potential gender differences were explored regarding the role of life meaning in adolescent health.


Data were collected in 2006 from students enrolled in the secondary schools of the Middle Transylvanian Region, Romania (n = 1,977). Self-administered questionnaires were used as a method of data collection including items of life meaning and psychological health.


Meaning in life played a protective role with regard to health risk behaviors except smoking and binge drinking. Among males, meaning in life was found to be correlated only to illicit drug and sedative use, whereas among females, meaning in life was associated with binge drinking, unsafe sex, and lack of exercise and diet control. Psychological health was strongly related to meaning in life.


In Romanian adolescents, meaning in life is a protective factor against health risk behaviors and poor psychological health.


Meaning in life Psychological health Health risk behavior Adolescence Protection 


  1. 1.
    Call KT, Riedel AA, Hein K, McLoyd V, Petersen A, Kipke M. Adolescent health and well-being in the twenty-first century: a global perspective. J Res Adolesc. 2002;12:69–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Piko B, Barabas K, Boda K. Frequency of common psychosomatic symptoms and its influence on self-perceived health in a Hungarian student population. Eur J Publ Health. 1997;7:243–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Piko B, Fitzpatrick KM. Depressive symptomatology among Hungarian youth: a risk and protective factors approach. Am J Orthopsychiat. 2003;73:44–54.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Piko B. Self-perceived health among adolescents: the role of gender and psychosocial factors. Eur J Pediatr. 2007;166:701–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Toporoff E, Himes JH, Resnick MD, Blum RWM. Covariates of eating behaviors with other health-related behaviors among adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 1997;20:450–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Eaton DE, Kann L, Kinchen S, Ross J, Hawkins J, Harris WA, Lowry R, McManus T, Chyen D, Shanklin S, Lim C, Grunbaum JA, Wechsler H. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2005. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance Summaries. 2006; 55/No. SS-5.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Luthar SS, Cicchetti D, Becker B. The construct of resilience: a critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Dev. 2000;71:543–62.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Deković M. Risk and protective factors in the development of problem behavior during adolescence. J Youth Adolesc. 1999;28:667–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jessor R, Turbin MS, Costa FM. Protective factors in adolescent health behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998;75:788–800.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Benson PL, Roehlkepartain EC, Rude SP. Spiritual development in childhood and adolescence: toward a field of inquiry. Appl Dev Sci. 2003;7:205–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Davey M, Eaker DG, Walters LH. Resilience processes in adolescents: personality profiles, self-worth, and coping. J Adolesc Res. 2003;18:347–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Steger MF, Kashdan TB, Sullivan BA, Lorentz D. Understanding the search for meaning in life: personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. J Pers. 2008;76:199–228.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Torsheim T, Aaroe LE, Wold B. Sense of coherence and school-related stress as predictors of subjective health complaints in early adolescence: indirect or direct relationships? Soc Sci Med. 2001;53:603–14.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Halama P. Dimensions of life meaning as factor of coping. Stud Psycholog. 2000;42:339–50.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Nielsen AM, Hansson K. Associations between adolescents' health, stress and sense of coherence. Stress Health. 2007;23:331–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Räty LKA, Larsson G, Söderfeldt BA, Larsson BMW. Psychosocial aspects of health in adolescence: the influence of gender, and general self-concept. J Adolesc Health 2005; 36:530.e21–530.e28.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Simonsson B, Nilsson KW, Leppert J, Diwan VK. Psychosomatic complaints and sense of coherence among adolescents in a county in Sweden: a cross-sectional school survey. Bio Psycho Soc Med. 2008;2:3–12.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rathi N, Rastogi R. Meaning in life and psychological well-being in pre-adolescents and adolescents. J Ind Acad Appl Psychol. 2007;33:31–8.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Halama P, Medova M. Meaning in life and hope as predictors of positive mental health: do they explain residual variance not predicted by personality trait? Stud Psycholog. 2007;49:191–200.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hicks JA, King LA. Meaning in life and seeing the big picture: positive affect and global focus. Cogn Emot. 2007;21:1577–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Siahpush M, Spittal M, Singh GK. Happiness and life satisfaction prospectively predict self-rated health, physical health, and the presence of limiting, long-term health conditions. Am J Health Prom. 2008;23:18–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Steger MF, Frazier P, Oishi S, Kaler M. The meaning in life questionnaire: assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. J Couns Psychol. 2006;53:80–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Steger M, Kashdan T. Stability and specificity of meaning in life and life satisfaction over one year. J Happiness Stud. 2007;8:161–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Steger MF. Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of spirituality, psychopathology, and well-being. In: Wong PTP, Fry PS, eds. The human quest for meaning (2nd ed). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; in press.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Addad M, Himi H. Meaning of life and drug use among Israeli teenagers. Int Forum Logother. 2008;31:43–8.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Nicholson T, Higgins W, Turner P, James S, Stickle F, Pruitt T. The relation between meaning in life and the occurrence of drug abuse: a retrospective study. Psychol Addict Behav. 1994;8:24–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Newcomb MD, Harlow LL. Life events and substance use among adolescents: mediating effects of perceived loss of control and meaninglessness in life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986;51:564–77.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Koushede V, Holstein BE. Sense of coherence and medicine use for headache among adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45:149–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Öztekin C, Tezer E. The role of sense of coherence and psychical activity in positive and negative affect of Turkish adolescents. Adolesc. 2009;44:421–32.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Myrin B, Lagerström M. Health behaviour and sense of coherence among pupils aged 14–15. Scand J Caring Sci. 2006;20:339–46.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Konkolÿ BT, Bachner YG, Martos T, Kushnir T. Meaning in life: does it play a role in smoking? Subst Use Misuse. 2009;44:1566–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Simantov E, Schoen C, Klein J. Health-compromising behavior: why do adolescents smoke and drink? Identifying underlying risk and protective factors. Ach Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154:1025–33.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Steinman KJ, Zimmerman MA. Religious activity and risk behavior among African American adolescents: concurrent and developmental effects. Am J Commun Psychol. 2004;33:151–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Rahe RH, Tolles RL. The Brief Stress and Coping Inventory: a useful stress management instrument. Int J Stress Manag. 2002;9:61–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Purebl Gy, Rózsa S, Kopp M. A Rövid Stressz Kérdőív kifejlesztése és pszichometriai jellemzőinek előzetes adatai. (Development of and preliminary psychometric results with the Hungarian version of the Brief Stress and Coping Questionnaire). Mentálhig Pszichoszom. 2006;7:217–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Skrabski A, Kopp M, Rózsa S, Réthely J, Rahe RH. Life meaning: an important correlate of health in the Hungarian population. Int J Behav Med. 2005;12:78–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Ross CE, Hayes D. Exercise and psychological well being in the community. Am J Epidemiol. 1988;127:762–71.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe and the International Diabetes Federation, Europe. Diabetes mellitus in Europe: a problem at all ages and in all countries. A model for prevention and self care. Meeting. Giorn Ital Diabetol 1990; 10 (suppl).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Bech P. Quality of life in the psychiatric patient. London: Mosby-Wolfe; 1998.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Bech P. Male depression: stress and aggression as pathways to major depression. In: Dawson A, Tylee A, editors. Depression: social and economic timebomb. London: BMJ Books; 2001. p. 63–6.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Bech P, Gudex C, Johansen KS. The WHO (Ten) Well-being index: validation in diabetes. Psychother Psychosom. 1996;65:183–90.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Luszczynska A, Gibbons FX, Piko BF, Tekozel M. Self-regulatory cognitions, social comparison, and perceived peers’ behaviors as predictors of nutrition and physical activity: a comparison among adolescents in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and USA. Psychol Health. 2004;19:577–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Steger MF, Kashdan TB, Oishi S. Being good by doing good: daily eudaimonic activity and well-being. J Res Pers. 2008;42:22–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • László Brassai
    • 1
  • Bettina F. Piko
    • 2
  • Michael F. Steger
    • 3
  1. 1.Psychopedagogical Consulting CenterKovasna CountySaint GeorgeRomania
  2. 2.Department of Behavioral SciencesUniversity of SzegedSzegedHungary
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Colorado, Campus Delivery Fort CollinsFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations