Finding Everyday Meaning: Contextual Factors that Predict the Use of Meaning in Decision-Making

Lin, Yuching, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Converse, Benjamin, BA-Dean Administration, University of Virginia

Meaning in life and happiness are both integral aspects of psychological well-being, and a large body of literature documents predictors that increase one or the other. However, little to no research has been conducted to understand the mechanisms underlying the day-to-day choices that lead to a greater sense of meaning versus happiness. In this dissertation, I investigate the cognitive processes underlying everyday decision-making to understand why people sometimes decide to pursue happy experiences and why at other times they choose to take on more meaningful endeavors. In the first three studies, I demonstrate that thinking about multiple experiences simultaneously causes people to prioritize meaning over happiness, compared to when people consider an experience’s merits in isolation. Studies 4 and 5 aimed to test whether these findings resulted from prospective meaning being less accessible or more difficult to evaluate. I do not find evidence that prospective meaning is more difficult to evaluate (Study 4), though the results of Study 5 suggest that prospective meaning may not be accessible in some contexts such as during separate evaluation. Overall, this research shows that people tend to prioritize prospective meaning more than prospective happiness in certain contexts (e.g., joint evaluation). The pattern of results also suggest that prospective meaning may be less accessible in separate evaluation, making it less likely that people incorporate prospective meaning into their judgments of an experience’s overall value.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
well-being, meaning in life, happiness, judgment and decision-making
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