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Developing a Quadripartite Existential Meaning Scale and Exploring the Internal Structure of Meaning in Life

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Previous research has shown that meaning in life (MIL) includes feelings of coherence, purpose, and external value (i.e., significance or mattering). Our studies aim to contribute to this framework by testing whether internal value should also be considered a basic component of MIL. To meet this aim, we developed a quadripartite existential meaning scale (QEMS) that incorporates items assessing one’s perceived internal value of life, and examined its relationship with other relevant measures. Results from three samples of undergraduates showed that QEMS had sound psychometric properties (e.g., good factor structure and reliability) and could effectively differentiate four sub-constructs of MIL. Regression and relative importance analysis demonstrated that each QEMS subscale carried unique predictive utility for unidimensional meaning measures, relevant well-being variables, and exhibited differential associations with other theoretically related variables (e.g., self-reflection, commitment making, self-esteem, and self or other interest orientation). Finally, exploratory structural equation modelling analysis showed that the four MIL sub-constructs formed an association pattern where comprehension fosters purpose, and purpose, in turn, contributes to both external and internal value. Implications for considering internal value as a core component of meaning in life are discussed.

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  1. Note: All scales that didn’t have Chinese versions were translated into Chinese by two experts following a strict translation procedure.

  2. In all steps, participants rated QEMS items on a 7-point scale from 1 (very strongly disagree) to 7 (very strongly agree). Subscale scores were created by averaging the retained items in each subscale of formal QEMS. Besides QEMS items, numerous other pertaining measures were synchronously administered to examine QEMS’s convergent and discriminant validity. To keep brevity of the survey packets, these measures were roughly balanced assigned to every step. Further, to maintain ratting congruency, items of some measures were randomly mixed with QEMS items. Thus, unless specifically stated, they were rated in the same way as QEMS items.

  3. A strict primary loading constraint is due to (1) having many high quality items, (2) excluding items with secondary loading greater than 0.3. If we had not set this criteria, there still would be items retained without simple structure, for example an item with its primary loading as 0.3 and its secondary loading as 0.29.

  4. It is worth noting that this could not be attributable of the goal-describing items in MLQ-P. For example, the regression analysis of item “I understand the meaning of my life” on the four subscales found that, purpose accounted for the largest part of its variance (R2 = 0.67) (see Table 4).


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Correspondence to Zhanhong Li or Joshua A. Hicks.

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Appendix: The Four-Dimensional Existential Meaning Scale (QEMS)

Appendix: The Four-Dimensional Existential Meaning Scale (QEMS)

Please read the following items carefully. Using the response scale listed next to each item, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement.

  1. (1)

    I have an important goal in life.

  2. (2)

    I have a life direction.

  3. (3)

    My existence is of great value to the people around me.

  4. (4)

    Generally speaking, I understand everything that I have experienced.

  5. (5)

    I have gained the value of life.

  6. (6)

    Being alive is of personal value to me.

  7. (7)

    I have been feeling the beauty of life.

  8. (8)

    I know the direction of my life.

  9. (9)

    I believe that history will leave traces of my existence.

  10. (10)

    I believe in my particular importance to the community (or the collective).

  11. (11)

    The world will be different because of my existence.

  12. (12)

    I can understand what happened in my life.

  13. (13)

    I have gained a lot from life.

  14. (14)

    In regards to life, I know where I’m going.

  15. (15)

    The world will be better because of me.

  16. (16)

    In general, I understand all the important events I have experienced.

  17. (17)

    Being alive is very happy.

  18. (18)

    I have a strong sense of life direction.

  19. (19)

    I understand the life road I walked through.

  20. (20)

    I can understand what I have been going through.

Responses are rated on a seven-point scale (very strongly disagree, strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree nor agree, agree, strongly agree, very strongly agree).

Scoring syntax:

  • Comprehension = 4, 12, 16, 19, 20.

  • Purpose = 1, 2, 8, 14, 18.

  • Internal Value = 5, 6, 7, 13, 17.

  • External Value = 3, 9, 10, 11, 15.

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Li, Z., Liu, Y., Peng, K. et al. Developing a Quadripartite Existential Meaning Scale and Exploring the Internal Structure of Meaning in Life. J Happiness Stud 22, 887–905 (2021).

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