Mental Illness, Meaning in Life, and Well-Being

Mental Illness, Meaning in Life, and Well-Being

Meaning In Life and Well-Being

Having and feeling meaning in life is really good for your well-being.

Those who acknowledge and live in accordance with their purpose derive a deep sense of meaning in life via the pursuit and attainment of valued goals (Kashdan & McKnight, 2009). They find greater happiness and self-esteem. They view goal pursuits as challenges instead of threats. They have greater resilience when confronted with emotional difficulties and traumatic events (Bonebright, Clay, & Ankenmann, 2000; Boyle, Barnes, Buchman, & Bennett, 2009; McKnight & Kashdan, 2009b; Ryff, 1989).

How then do various mental conditions impact meaning, and thus well-being?

Depression and Meaning

Depression is characterized by a poverty of meaning and purpose (Beck, 1967). Hope about the future is an important component of meaning (Feldman & Snyder, 2005).

Therefor, enhancing meaning, purpose, and related phenomena should be effective in preventing and treating depression (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999; Zettle, 2007).

Social Anxiety Disorder and Meaning

Social Anxiety Disorder can get in the way of the pursuit of one's meaning. A coherent sense of purpose and committed effort towards that purpose may act as a powerful antidote for the emotional suffering experienced by people with social anxiety disorder (Kashdan & McKnight, 2013).

Trauma-Related Disorders and Meaning

Survivors search for meaning in the wake of their trauma, as traumatic events disrupt assumptions about the self and world (Janoff-Bulman, 1989).

For example, adults with a recently deceased parent experience a strengthening of their relationships with others, because they more fully appreciate the transience of meaningful connections with others (Malinak, Hoyt, & Patterson, 1979).

94% of survivors of a sinking cruise ship reportedly “stopped taking life for granted” and 71% noted that they now strive to “live each day to the fullest” (Joseph, Williams, Yule, 1993).




  1. Allen, N. B., & Badcock, P. B. T. (2003). The social risk hypothesis of depressed mood: Evolutionary, psychosocial, and neurobiological perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 887-913.
  2. Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (1996). Self and self-expansion in relationships. In G. O. Fletcher and J. Fitness (Eds.), Knowledge structures in close relationships: A social psychological approach (pp. 325–344). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  3. Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental, and theoretical aspects. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  4. Bonebright, C. A., Clay, D. L., & Ankenmann, R. D. (2000). The relationship of workaholism with work–life conflict, life satisfaction, and purpose in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology , 47, 469-477.
  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.
  6. Bylsma, L. M., Morris, B. H., & Rottenberg, J. (2008). A meta-analysis of emotional reactivity in major depressive disorder. Clinical Psychology Review, 28, 676-691.
  7. Clark, D. M., & Wells, A. (1995). A cognitive model of social phobia. In R. G. Heimberg, M. Liebowitz, D. Hope, & F. Scheier (Eds.), Social phobia: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment. (pp. 69–93). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  8. 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, 227-268.
  9. Feldman, D. B., & Snyder, C. R. (2005). Hope and the meaningful life: Theoretical and empirical associations between goal–directed thinking and life meaning. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 401-421.
  10. Gilbert, K., & Gruber, J. (2014). Emotion regulation of goals in bipolar disorder and major depression: A comparison of rumination and mindfulness. Cognitive Therapy and Research , 38, 375-388.
  11. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. Guilford Press.
  12. Heimberg, R. G., Brozovich, F. A., & Rapee, R. M. (2010). A cognitive-behavioral model of social anxiety disorder: Update and extension. Social anxiety: Clinical, developmental, and social perspectives, 2, 395-422.
  13. Jamison, K.R. (1989). Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 52, 125-134.
  14. Janoff-Bulman, R. (1989). Assumptive worlds and the stress of traumatic events: Applications of the schema construct. Social Cognition, 7, 113-136.
  15. Johnson, S. L., Murray, G., Fredrickson, B., Youngstrom, E. A., Hinshaw, S., Bass, J. M., ... & Salloum, I. (2012). Creativity and bipolar disorder: Touched by fire or burning with questions? Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 1-12.
  16. Joiner, T. E., & Katz, J. (1999). Contagion of depressive symptoms and mood: Meta-analytic review and explanations from cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal viewpoints. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 149-164.
  17. Joseph, S., Williams, R., & Yule, W. (1993). Changes in outlook following disaster: The preliminary development of a measure to assess positive and negative responses. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6, 271-279.
  18. Kashdan, T. B., & McKnight, P. E. (2009). Origins of purpose in life: Refining our understanding of a life well lived. Psihologijske Teme, 18, 303-313.
  19. Kashdan, T. B., & McKnight, P. E. (2013). Commitment to a purpose in life: An antidote to the suffering by individuals with social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 13, 1150-1159.
  20. Kuppens, P., Sheeber, L. B., Yap, M. B., Whittle, S., Simmons, J. G., & Allen, N. B. (2012). Emotional inertia prospectively predicts the onset of depressive disorder in adolescence. Emotion, 12, 283-289.
  21. Malinak, D. P., Hoyt, M. F., & Patterson, V. (1979). Adults' reactions to the death of a parent: A preliminary study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 136 , 1152-1156
  22. McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009b). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology , 13, 242-251.
  23. Moscovitch, D. A. (2009). What is the core fear in social phobia? A new model to facilitate individualized case conceptualization and treatment. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice , 16, 123-134.
  24. Moscovitch, D. A., & Huyder, V. (2011). The negative self-portrayal scale: Development, validation, and application to social anxiety. Behavior Therapy, 42, 183-196.
  25. Rottenberg, J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2004). Socioemotional functioning in depression. Mood disorders: A handbook of science and practice, 61-77.
  26. 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, 1069.
  27. Turk, C. L., Heimberg, R. G., Luterek, J. A., Mennin, D. S., & Fresco, D. M. (2005). Emotion dysregulation in generalized anxiety disorder: A comparison with social anxiety disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29, 89-106.
  28. Watson, P. J., & Andrews, P. W. (2002). Toward a revised evolutionary adaptationist analysis of depression: The social navigation hypothesis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 72, 1-14.
  29. Weisberg, R. W. (1994). Genius and madness?: A quasi-experimental test of the hypothesis that manic-depression increases creativity. Psychological Science, 5, 361-367.
  30. Zettle, R. (2007). ACT for depression: A clinician's guide to using acceptance and commitment therapy in treating depression. New Harbinger Publications.

Leave a comment