Why Meaning Matters For Freedom And Flourishing

May 2020
Clay Routledge

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Social, behavioral, and health scientists are increasingly appreciating how important meaning in life is to both mental and physical wellbeing. People who view their lives as full of meaning and purpose are more resilient and enjoy greater overall psychological health. They are also more inclined to engage in the behaviors that increase the likelihood of living long and healthy lives, as well as avoid the behaviors that lead to illness and early death. Despite the growing recognition that meaning has powerful implications for both psychological and physical health, scholars have largely ignored how meaning might influence other areas of life. I propose that meaning in life has important implications for economic, and ultimately societal, flourishing. To this end, in the current report, I first provide an overview of the concept of meaning in life and research on how humans find and maintain meaning. I then present a motivational analysis of meaning that moves beyond the health and wellbeing domains; discuss results from a recent study I conducted with a colleague focused on attitudes about capitalism, the role of entrepreneurs in society, and entrepreneurial aspirations; and suggest directions for future research. Finally, I consider current threats to meaning in our society that potentially undermine freedom and flourishing.

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