Meaning and Health: A Systematic Review

Abstract

The research base linking meaning with physical health is significantly underdeveloped in comparison to that linking subjective well-being and physical health. We address this deficit by first providing an overview of the study of meaning, and then examining evidence of its positive relationship to physical health in a systematic review of relevant literature. We searched PsycINFO and PubMed databases for studies of varying design and populations, excluding studies that did not have clear measures of meaning and physical health and/or did not address their relationship. Overall, higher levels of meaning are clearly associated with better physical health, as well as with behavioral factors that decrease the probability of negative health outcomes or increase that of positive health outcomes. Methodological challenges and future directions are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We thank Ed Diener for pointing out these important measurement issues.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are very grateful to Dr. Suzanne C. Danhauer of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine for her valuable comments during preparation of this manuscript.

Support for this publication is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through a grant, “Exploring the Concept of Positive Health,” to the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman, project director.

This publication is also made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation

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Roepke, A.M., Jayawickreme, E. & Riffle, O.M. Meaning and Health: A Systematic Review. Applied Research Quality Life 9, 1055–1079 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-013-9288-9

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Keywords

  • Meaning
  • Purpose
  • Physical health
  • Posttraumatic growth