Examining Cross-Cultural Relationships Between Meaning in Life and Psychological Well-Being in Turkey and the United States

Abstract

This study explored the extent to which meaning in life (i.e., presence and search) relates to different aspects of psychological well-being in American and Turkish students. It also assessed whether presence of meaning moderated the relationship between search for meaning and psychological well-being. American (N =377) and Turkish (N =225) undergraduates completed demographics and self-report measures. Simple and moderated moderation analyses were conducted. In both samples, presence and search were negatively associated. In addition, presence of meaning was positively associated with measures of psychological well-being, while search was negatively associated. Presence of meaning buffered the relationship between search for meaning and psychological well-being, but only in the Turkish sample. American and Turkish undergraduates may typically search for meaning when presence of meaning is low. Presence of meaning appears to be adaptive across these two cultures, whereas search for meaning appears to be culturally-specific and may produce differential effects on psychological well-being.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    To date, research has focused primarily on the benefits of experiencing a sense of comprehensibility and purpose in life (George and Park 2014). However, significance, or the idea that one’s life “matters” in the grand scheme, contributes to a sense of meaning in life (e.g., Costin and Vignoles 2020; Schnell 2009) and, recently, a new measure has been designed to address this gap (George and Park 2017).

  2. 2.

    Because part of this data was collected for a larger study, we had different measures of depressive symptoms in the samples. CES-D scale scores were converted into BDI-II scores using conversion formulas developed by Gonzales and Jenkins (2014). As a sensitivity analysis, we also transformed BDI-II scores into CES-D equivalent scores and re-ran moderation analyses. Findings were highly similar in both sets of analyses. Results are reported in BDI-II metric.

  3. 3.

    This may be especially true in collectivistic societies that are also considered to be tight (i.e., societies that have clear social norms and limited tolerance of deviance from those norms). Turkey is considered to be tighter than the United States (Uz 2015), and this difference may also have implications for how the process of searching for meaning unfolds within these two countries. However, because we did not collect any data that would allow us to examine the reasons why our samples were actively searching for meaning, this question cannot be addressed and awaits future research.

References

  1. Ahmadi, F., Erbil, P., Ahmadi, N., & Cetrez, O. A. (2019). Religion, culture and meaning-making coping: A study among cancer patients in Turkey. Journal of Religion and Health,58, 1115–1124. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-018-0646-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist,55, 469–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Atak, H., & Çok, F. (2008). The Turkish version of inventory of the dimensions of emerging adulthood (The IDEA). International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences,3, 148–154.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Boyle, P. A., Barnes, L. L., Buchman, A. S., & Bennett, D. A. (2009). Purpose in life is associated with mortality among community-dwelling older persons. Psychosomatic Medicine,71, 574–579.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Boyraz, G., Lightsey, O. R., Jr., & Can, A. (2013). The Turkish version of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the measurement invariance across Turkish and American adult samples. Journal of Personality Assessment,95, 423–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Brandstätter, M., Baumann, U., Borasio, G. D., & Fegg, M. J. (2012). Systematic review of meaning in life assessment instruments. Psycho-Oncology,21(10), 1034–1052.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Carstensen, L. L. (2006). The influence of a sense of time on human development. Science,312, 1913–1915.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cohen, R., Bavishi, C., & Rozanski, A. (2016). Purpose in life and its relationship to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: A meta-analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine,78, 122–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cohen, K., & Cairns, D. (2012). Is searching for meaning in life associated with reduced subjective well-being? Confirmation and possible moderators. Journal of Happiness Studies,13, 313–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Costin, V., & Vignoles, V. L. (2020). Meaning is about mattering: Evaluating coherence, purpose, and existential mattering as precursors of meaning in life judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(4), 864–884.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cukur, C. S., De Guzman, M. R. T., & Carlo, G. (2004). Religiosity, values, and horizontal and vertical individualism—Collectivism: A study of Turkey, the United States, and the Philippines. The Journal of Social Psychology,144, 613–634.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Czekierda, K., Banik, A., Park, C. L., & Luszczynska, A. (2017). Meaning in life and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Psychology Review, 11(4), 387–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dagli, A., & Baysal, N. (2016). Adaptation of the satisfaction with life scale into Turkish: The study of validity and reliability. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences,15, 1250–1262.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Damásio, B. F., Koller, S. H., & Schnell, T. (2013). Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe): Psychometric properties and sociodemographic findings in a large Brazilian sample. Acta de Investigación Psicológica, 3(3), 1205–1227.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Dezutter, J., Waterman, A. S., Schwartz, S. J., Luyckx, K., Beyers, W., Meca, A., et al. (2014). Meaning in life in emerging adulthood: A person-oriented approach. Journal of Personality,82, 57–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment,49, 71–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dogra, A. K., Basu, S., & Das, S. (2008). The roles of personality, stressful life events, meaning in life, reasons for living on suicidal ideation: A study in college students. SIS Journal of Projective Psychology & Mental Health,15, 52.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Emmons, R. A. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positivepsychology and the life well-lived (pp. 105–128). Washington: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fahlman, S. A., Mercer, K. B., Gaskovski, P., Eastwood, A. E., & Eastwood, J. D. (2009). Does a lack of life meaning cause boredom? Results from psychometric, longitudinal, and experimental analyses. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,28, 307–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Fischer, I. C. (2019). Searching for meaning in life: The moderating roles of hope and optimism (Unpublished masters thesis). Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

  22. Frankl, V. E. (1963). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logetheraphy. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Fung, H. H., Ho, Y. W., Zhang, R., Zhang, X., Noels, K. A., & Tam, K. P. (2016). Age differences in personal values: Universal or cultural specific? Psychology and Aging, 31(3), 274–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. George, L. S., & Park, C. L. (2014). Existential mattering: Bringing attention to a neglected but central aspect of meaning? In Meaning in positive and existential psychology (pp. 39–51). New York, NY: Springer.

  26. George, L. S., & Park, C. L. (2016). Meaning in life as comprehension, purpose, and mattering: Toward integration and new research questions. Review of General Psychology,20, 205–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. George, L. S., & Park, C. L. (2017). The multidimensional existential meaning scale: A tripartite approach to measuring meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology,12(6), 613–627.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gonzales, D. A., & Jenkins, S. R. (2014). Cross-measure equivalence and communicability in the assessment of depression: A focus on factor-based scales. Assessment,21, 731–741.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Sociodemographic differences within countries produce variable cultural values. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,45(1), 37–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. Journal of Educational Measurement,51, 335–337.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Heintzelman, S. J., & King, L. A. (2014a). (The feeling of) meaning-as-information. Personality and Social Psychology Review,18(2), 153–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Heintzelman, S. J., & King, L. A. (2014b). Life is pretty meaningful. American Psychologist,69(6), 561.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Ho, M. Y., Cheung, F. M., & Cheung, S. F. (2010). The role of meaning in life and optimism in promoting well-being. Personality and Individual Differences,48, 658–663.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Hofstede Insights (n.d.) Country comparision tool. Retrieved from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/ on May 4th 2019.

  36. House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (Eds.). (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Imamoglu, E. O., & Imamoglu, V. (1992). Life situations and attitudes of the Turkish elderly toward institutional living within a cross-cultural perspective. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,47, 102–108. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronj/47.2.P102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Imamoglu, E. O., Kuller, R., Imamoglu, V., & Kuller, M. (1993). The social psychological worlds of Swedes and Turks in and around retirement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,24(1), 26–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022193241002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Juhl, J., & Routledge, C. (2016). Putting the terror in terror management theory: Evidence that the awareness of death does cause anxiety and undermine psychological well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science,25, 99–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kagitcibasi, C. (2005). Autonomy and relatedness in cultural context: Implications for self and family. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,36, 403–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Kapci, E. G., Uslu, R., Turkcapar, H., & Karaoglan, A. (2008). Beck Depression Inventory II: Evaluation of the psychometric properties and cut-off points in a Turkish adult population. Depression and Anxiety,25, E104–E110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Karakitapoĝlu-Aygün, Z., & Imamoĝlu, E. O. (2002). Value domains of Turkish adults and university students. The Journal of Social Psychology,142, 333–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kern, M. L., Waters, L. E., Adler, A., & White, M. A. (2015). A multidimensional approach to measuring well-being in students: Application of the PERMA framework. The Journal of Positive Psychology,10(3), 262–271. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.936962.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Kierkegaard, S., Swenson, D. F., Swenson, L. M., & Lowrie, W. (1946). Either/or: A fragment of life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Kleftaras, G., & Psarra, E. (2012). Meaning in life, psychological well-being and depressive symptomatology: A comparative study. Psychology,3, 337–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Klinger, E. (1977). Meaning and void: Inner experience and the incentives in peoples lives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Köker, S. (1991). Comparison of the level of life satisfaction of normal adolescents and adolescents with problems. Unpublished Master Thesis, the Institute of Social Sciences, Ankara University, Ankara.

  48. Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2004). The psychology of worldviews. Review of General Psychology,8, 3–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Krause, N. (2007). Longitudinal study of social support and meaning in life. Psychology and Aging,22, 456–469.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Krok, D. (2014). The religious meaning system and subjective well-being: The mediational perspective of meaning in life. Archive for the Psychology of Religion,36(2), 253–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Krok, D. (2015). The role of meaning in life within the relations of religious coping and psychological well-being. Journal of Religion and Health,54(6), 2292–2308.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review,98, 224–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Martela, F., & Steger, M. F. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. The Journal of Positive Psychology,11, 531–545.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology,13(3), 242–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Öner, N., & Le Compte, A. (1983). Handbook of state-trait anxiety. Turkey: Bogazici University Publication.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Pan, J.-Y., Wong, D. F. K., Joubert, L., & Chan, C. L. W. (2008). The protective function of meaning of life on life satisfaction among Chinese students in Australia and Hong Kong: A cross-cultural comparative study. Journal of American College Health,57, 221–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Park, N., Park, M., & Peterson, C. (2010). When is the search for meaning related to life satisfaction? Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being,2, 1–13.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Pedersen, H. F., Birkeland, M. H., Jensen, J. S., Schnell, T., Hvidt, N. C., Sørensen, T., et al. (2018). What brings meaning to life in a highly secular society? A study on sources of meaning among Danes. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 59(6), 678–690.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies,6, 25–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement,1, 385–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Reker, G. T., & Woo, L. C. (2011). Personal meaning orientations and psychosocial adaptation in older adults (pp. 1–11). SAGE Open.

  62. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9(1), 1–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Schnell, T. (2009). The Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (SoMe): Relations to demographics and well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology,4(6), 483–499.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Schnell, T. (2010). Existential indifference: Another quality of meaning in life. Journal of Humanistic Psychology,50(3), 351–373.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Schnell, T. (2011). Individual differences in meaning-making: Considering the variety of sources of meaning, their density and diversity. Personality and Individual Differences,51, 667–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Schnell, T., Gerstner, R., & Krampe, H. (2018). Crisis of meaning predicts suicidality in youth independently of depression. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 39(4), 294–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Schnetzer, L. W., Schulenberg, S. E., & Buchanan, E. M. (2013). Differential associations among alcohol use, depression and perceived life meaning in male and female college students. Journal of Substance Use,18, 311–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Singelis, T. M., Triandis, H. C., Bhawuk, D. P., & Gelfand, M. J. (1995). Horizontal and vertical dimensions of individualism and collectivism: A theoretical and measurement refinement. Cross-Cultural Research,29, 240–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Singh, K., Junnarkar, M., Jaswal, S., & Kaur, J. (2016). Validation of Meaning in Life Questionnaire in Hindi (MLQ-H). Mental Health, Religion & Culture,19, 448–458.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P., & Jacobs, G. (1983). Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Steger, M. F. (2012). Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of spirituality, psychopathology, and well-being. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 165–184). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  72. 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, 80–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., Sullivan, B. A., & Lorentz, D. (2008a). Understanding the search for meaning in life: Personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. Journal of Personality,76, 199–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Steger, M. F., Kawabata, Y., Shimai, S., & Otake, K. (2008b). The meaningful life in Japan and the United States: Levels and correlates of meaning in life. Journal of Research in Personality,42, 660–678.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Steger, M. F., Mann, J. R., Michels, P., & Cooper, T. C. (2009a). Meaning in life, anxiety, depression, and general health among smoking cessation patients. Journal of Psychosomatic Research,67, 353–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Steger, M. F., Oishi, S., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009b). 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, 43–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. 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, 173–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Triandis, H. C., & Gelfand, M. J. (1998). Converging measurement of horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,74, 118–128.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Tukey, J. W. (1962). The future of data analysis. The Annals of Mathematical Statistics,33, 1–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Uz, I. (2015). The index of cultural tightness and looseness among 68 countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,46(3), 319–335.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Wang, M.-C., & Dai, X.-Y. (2008). Chinese Meaning in Life Questionnaire Revised in College students and its reliability and validity test. Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology,16, 459–461.

    Google Scholar 

  82. 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. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Winger, J. G., Adams, R. N., & Mosher, C. E. (2016). Relations of meaning in life and sense of coherence to distress in cancer patients: A meta-analysis. Psycho-Oncology,25(1), 2–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Wong, P. T. P. (2012). Toward a dual-systems model of what makes life worth living. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), Personality and clinical psychology series. The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (pp. 3–22). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

Funding

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ian C. Fischer.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fischer, I.C., Secinti, E., Cemalcilar, Z. et al. Examining Cross-Cultural Relationships Between Meaning in Life and Psychological Well-Being in Turkey and the United States. J Happiness Stud (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00275-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Meaning in life
  • Cross-cultural
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Well-being