Positive affect (PA) has consistently been shown to predict meaning in life (MIL). In one of the first investigations to examine multiple predictors of MIL simultaneously, we tested in three studies the hypothesis that satisfactions associated with being benevolent and fulfilling psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are more central predictors of MIL, and could explain the correlation between PA and MIL. Study 1, a cross-sectional survey, regressed the four suggested factors and PA simultaneously on MIL, showing that all four emerged as independent predictors, whereas PA and MIL were no longer connected. Study 2 looked at recollections of meaningful situations, showing that all four satisfactions and PA emerged as independent predictors of situational meaning. Study 3 used a diary method to show that daily fluctuations in autonomy, competence, relatedness, beneficence, and PA all simultaneously and independently predicted daily sense of meaning. However, a brief longitudinal study showed that whereas combined satisfaction of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and beneficence at T1 predicted general sense of MIL at T2, PA did not. Together, these studies show that the four satisfactions consistently emerge as independent predictors of both general and short-term meaning, in some situations even accounting for the relation between PA and general MIL.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., et al. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635–652.
Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: The Guilford Press.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.
Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2002). The pursuit of meaningfulness in life. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 608–618). New York: Oxford University Press.
Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K., Aaker, J., & Garbinsky, E. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(8), 505–516.
Brown, S. L., & Brown, R. M. (2006). Selective investment theory: Recasting the functional significance of close relationships. Psychological Inquiry, 17(1), 1–29.
Bryk, A. S., & Raudenbush, S. (1992). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s mechanical turk a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–5.
Chen, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Beyers, W., Boone, L., Deci, E. L., der Kapp-Deeder, J., et al. (2015). Psychological need satisfaction, need frustration, and need strength across four cultures. Motivation and Emotion, 39, 216–236.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The“what” and“why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268.
Delle Fave, A., Brdar, I., Freire, T., Vella-Brodrick, D. A., & Wissing, M. P. (2011). The eudaimonic and hedonic components of happiness: Qualitative and quantitative findings | SpringerLink. Social Indicators Research, 100, 185–207.
Diener, E., & Emmons, R. A. (1984). The independence of positive and negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(5), 1105–1117.
Diener, E., Suh, E., Lucas, R., & Smith, H. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302.
Eakman, A. M. (2013). Relationships between meaningful activity, basic psychological needs, and meaning in life: Test of the meaningful activity and life meaning model. OTJR-Occupation Participation and Health, 33(2), 100–109.
Frankl, V. E. (1963). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Washington Square Press.
George, L. S., & Park, C. L. (2013). Are meaning and purpose distinct? An examination of correlates and predictors. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(5), 365–375.
Goldstein, H., Healy, M. J., & Rasbash, J. (1994). Multilevel time series models with applications to repeated measures data. Statistics in Medicine, 13(16), 1643–1655.
Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A dark side of happiness? How, when, and why happiness is not always good. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(3), 222–233.
Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.
Heintzelman, S. J., & King, L. A. (2014a). Life is pretty meaningful. American Psychologist, 69(6), 561–574.
Heintzelman, S. J., & King, L. A. (2014b). (The feeling of) meaning-as-information. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(2), 153–167.
Hepach, R., Vaish, A., & Tomasello, M. (2012). Young children are intrinsically motivated to see others helped. Psychological Science, 23(9), 967–972.
Hicks, J. A., & King, L. A. (2008). Religious commitment and positive mood as information about meaning in life. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(1), 43–57.
Hicks, J. A., & King, L. A. (2009a). Meaning in life as a subjective judgment and a lived experience. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3(4), 638–653.
Hicks, J. A., & King, L. A. (2009b). Positive mood and social relatedness as information about meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 471–482.
Hicks, J. A., Schlegel, R. J., & King, L. A. (2010). Social threats, happiness, and the dynamics of meaning in life judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(10), 1305–1317.
Hicks, J. A., Trent, J., Davis, W. E., & King, L. A. (2012). Positive affect, meaning in life, and future time perspective: An application of socioemotional selectivity theory. Psychology and Aging, 27(1), 181–189.
Kashdan, T. B., & Steger, M. F. (2007). Curiosity and stable and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 159–173.
King, L. A., & Hicks, J. A. (2009). Detecting and constructing meaning in life events. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 317–330.
King, L. A., Hicks, J. A., Krull, J. L., & Del Gaiso, A. K. (2006). Positive affect and the experience of meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(1), 179–196.
Krause, N. (2004). Stressors arising in highly valued roles, meaning in life, and the physical health status of older adults. Journal of Gerontology, 59(5), 287–297.
Krause, N. (2007). Longitudinal study of social support and meaning in life. Psychology and Aging, 22(3), 456–469.
Lambert, N. M., Stillman, T. F., Baumeister, R. F., Fincham, F. D., Hicks, J. A., & Graham, S. M. (2010). Family as a salient source of meaning in young adulthood. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(5), 367–376.
Lambert, N. M., Stillman, T. F., Hicks, J. A., Kamble, S., Baumeister, R. F., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). To belong is to matter: Sense of belonging enhances meaning in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(11), 1418–1427.
Maniaci, M. R., & Rogge, R. D. (2013). Caring about carelessness: Participant inattention and its effects on research. Journal of Research in Personality, 48, 61–83.
Marco, C. A., & Suls, J. (1993). Daily stress and the trajectory of mood: Spillover, response assimilation, contrast, and chronic negative affectivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(6), 1053–1063.
Martela, F., & Ryan, R. M. (2016a). Prosocial behavior increases well-being and vitality even without contact with the beneficiary: Causal and behavioral evidence. Motivation and Emotion, 40(3), 351–357.
Martela, F., & Ryan, R. M. (2016b). The benefits of benevolence: Basic psychological needs, beneficence, and the enhancement of well-being. Journal of Personality, 84(6), 750–764. doi:10.1111/jopy.12215.
Martela, F., & Steger, M. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose and significance. Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(5), 531–545.
McGregor, I., & Little, B. R. (1998). Personal projects, happiness, and meaning: On doing well and being yourself. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 494–512.
Morgan, J., & Farsides, T. (2009). Measuring meaning in life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(2), 197–214.
Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(3), 291–306.
Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical explanations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Paulhus, D. L. (1991). Measurement and control of response bias. In J. P. Robinson, P. R. Shaver, & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes (Vol. 1, pp. 17–59). San Diego: Academic Press.
Quené, H., & Van den Bergh, H. (2004). On multi-level modeling of data from repeated measures designs: A tutorial. Speech Communication, 43(1), 103–121.
Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Daily well-being: The role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(4), 419–435.
Reker, G. T., Peacock, E. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (1987). Meaning and purpose in life and well-being: A life-span perspective. Journal of Gerontology, 42(1), 44–49.
Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63, 397–427.
Ryan, R. M., Bernstein, J. H., & Brown, K. W. (2010). Weekends, work, and well-being: Psychological need satisfactions and day of the week effects on mood, vitality, and physical symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29(1), 95–122.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2004). Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic dialectical perspective. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3–33). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Ryan, R. M., & Martela, F. (2016). Eudaimonia as a way of living: Connecting Aristotle with self-determination theory. In J. Vittersø (Ed.), Handbook of eudaimonic wellbeing (pp. 109–122). New York: Springer.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081.
Sadikaj, G., Moskowitz, D. S., & Zuroff, D. C. (2011). Attachment-related affective dynamics: Differential reactivity to others’ interpersonal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 905–917.
Schlegel, R. J., Hicks, J. A., Arndt, J., & King, L. A. (2009). Thine own self: True self-concept accessibility and meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(2), 473–490. doi:10.1037/a0014060.
Schnell, T. (2011). Individual differences in meaning-making: Considering the variety of sources of meaning, their density and diversity. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(5), 667–673.
Schwarz, N. (2001). Feelings as information: Implications for affective influences on information processing. In L. L. Martin & G. L. Clore (Eds.), Theories of mood and cognition: A user’s handbook (pp. 159–176). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Shek, D. T. L., Ma, H., & Cheung, P. (1994). Meaning in life and adolescent antisocial and prosocial behavior in a Chinese context. Psychologia, 37(4), 211–218.
Sheldon, K. M., Elliot, A. J., Kim, Y., & Kasser, T. (2001). What is satisfying about satisfying events? Testing 10 candidate psychological needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(2), 325–339.
Sheldon, K. M., & Hilpert, J. C. (2012). The balanced measure of psychological needs (BMPN) scale: An alternative domain general measure of need satisfaction. Motivation and Emotion, 36, 439–451.
Shrira, A., Palgi, Y., Ben-Ezra, M., & Shmotkin, D. (2011). How subjective well-being and meaning in life interact in the hostile world? Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(4), 273–285.
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 (2nd ed., pp. 165–184). New York: Routledge.
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(1), 80–93.
Steger, M. F., & Kashdan, T. B. (2013). The unbearable lightness of meaning: Well-being and unstable meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(2), 103–115.
Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., & Oishi, S. (2008a). Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(1), 22–42.
Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., Sullivan, B. A., & Lorentz, D. (2008b). Understanding the search for meaning in life: Personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. Journal of Personality, 76(2), 199–228.
Steger, M. F., 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. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 43–52.
Steger, M. F., Oishi, S., & Kesebir, S. (2011). Is a life without meaning satisfying? The moderating role of the search for meaning in satisfaction with life judgments. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(3), 173–180.
Steger, M. F., & Samman, E. (2012). Assessing meaning in life on an international scale: Psychometric evidence for the Meaning in Life Questionnaire-Short Form among Chilean households. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2, 182–195.
Stillman, T. F., Baumeister, R. F., Lambert, N. M., Crescioni, A. W., DeWall, C. N., & Fincham, F. D. (2009). Alone and without purpose: Life loses meaning following social exclusion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 686–694.
Trent, J., & King, L. A. (2010). Predictors of rapid versus thoughtful judgments of meaning in life. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(6), 439–451. doi:10.1080/17439760.2010.534106.
Twenge, J. M., & Kasser, T. (2013). Generational changes in materialism and work centrality, 1976–2007 associations with temporal changes in societal insecurity and materialistic role modeling. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(7), 883–897. doi:10.1177/0146167213484586.
Van Tongeren, D. R., Green, J. D., Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., & Hulsey, T. L. (2016). Prosociality enhances meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(3), 225–236.
Vess, M., Routledge, C., Landau, M., & Arndt, J. (2009). The dynamics of death and meaning: The effects of death-relevant cognitions and personal need for structure on perceptions of meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(4), 728–744.
Waterman, A. S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(4), 678–691.
Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070.
Weinstein, N., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2012). Motivation, meaning, and wellness: A self-determination perspective on the creation and internalization of personal meanings and life goals. In P. T. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 81–106). New York: Routledge.
Wong, P. T. P. (1989). Successful aging and personal meaning. Canadian Psychology, 30, 516–525.
About this article
Cite this article
Martela, F., Ryan, R.M. & Steger, M.F. Meaningfulness as Satisfaction of Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness, and Beneficence: Comparing the Four Satisfactions and Positive Affect as Predictors of Meaning in Life. J Happiness Stud 19, 1261–1282 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9869-7
- Meaning in life
- Self-determination theory
- Positive affect