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The Role of Existential Meaning as a Buffer Against Stress
Nathan Mascaro and David H. Rosen Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2006 46: 168 DOI: 10.1177/0022167805283779 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jhp.sagepub.com/content/46/2/168

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Meaning 10.1177/0022167805283779 Nathan Mascaro, and Stress David H. Rosen

THE ROLE OF EXISTENTIAL MEANING AS A BUFFER AGAINST STRESS
NATHAN MASCARO is in the internship year of Texas A&M’s doctoral program in clinical psychology. He was interning at Tulane University’s Health Sciences Center until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and he currently interns at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. His research interest is the assessment of existential personality variables, the relationship of these variables to psychological well-being, and their role in psychotherapy. DAVID H. ROSEN is McMillan Professor of Analytical Psychology in Texas A&M University’s Psychology Department as well as professor of humanities in medicine and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science within the Texas A&M School of Medicine. He has a long-standing interest in spirituality and the healing process and has written seven books including Medicine as a Human Experience with David Reiser (1985), The Tao of Jung: The Way of Integrity (1997), Transforming Depression: Healing the Soul Through Creativity (3rd ed., 2002), and The Healing Spirit of Haiku with Joel Weishaus (2004).

Summary
An ethnically diverse sample of 143 college undergraduates was used to test the hypothesis that a sense of existential meaning buffers against the effect of stress on depression and hope. Spiritual meaning as measured by the Spiritual Meaning Scale and personal meaning as measured by the framework subscale from the Life Regard Index-Revised were significantly negatively correlated with depressive symptoms and positively correlated with hope. Spiritual meaning, but not personal meaning, moderated the relationship between stress and depression such that there was a strong relationship between depression and stress for individuals with low levels of spiritual meaning but no relationship between stress and depression
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 46 No. 2, April 2006 DOI: 10.1177/0022167805283779 © 2006 Sage Publications 168-190

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for individuals with high levels of spiritual meaning. It appears that, though both spiritual and personal meaning are inversely related to depression and positively related to hope, only spiritual meaning moderates the relationship between daily stress and depression. Keywords: meaning; stress; depression; hope; spirituality; existentialism

It is contrary to our nature, from the time we first gain the selfawareness and language use that connect our own inner world with the inner world of others, to do what we are asked without having a good reason, without asking why. And also from this time, our behavior is ever more guided and motivated by the answers to why questions that most satisfy us (i.e., our behavior is increasingly determined by the meanings we obtain for our lives). Yet within the field of mental health research, there is a limited amount of thorough quantitative assessment of meaning (Debats, 1999; Harris & Standard, 2001). This is despite our intuition that a full sense of meaning in life, or existential meaning, is vital for optimal functioning and despite the zeal with which people read and claim to have been affected by Viktor Frankl’s (1959/1992) primary work, Man’s Search for Meaning,1 in which he affirms Nietzsche’s aphorism, “If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how” (Nietzsche, 1888/1976, p. 468). Progress in meaning research has been slowed by overreliance on measures such as the Purpose In Life Test (PIL; Crumbaugh, 1968; Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964). The most popular measure of individual differences in existential meaning, the PIL is based on a vague conceptualization of the construct (Yalom, 1980), has a complex and inconsistent factor structure (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988a; Dufton & Pearlman, 1986, cited in Pargament, 1999; Reker, 2000; Reker & Cousins, 1979), and lacks discriminant validity by virtue of its being confounded with variables such as life satisfaction (Yalom, 1980), social desirability (Braun & Domino, 1978), and depression (Dyck, 1987). Some examples of PIL test items that confuse meaning with the hypothesized consequences of experiencing meaning are “Facing my daily tasks is a source of pleasure and satisfaction”; “With regard to suicide, I have never given it a second thought”; “My life is running over with exciting, good things”; “If I could choose, I would like nine more lives just like this one”; “Life to me seems always exciting”; and “I am usually exuberant, enthusi-

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astic.” Such confounded content vitiates PIL-based research suggesting that existential meaning is related to particular variables of psychological health because the PIL is a measure of psychological health at least as much as it is a measure of existential meaning. Despite its problematic history, there has arisen during the past two decades a fair amount of quality research on the quantitative assessment of existential meaning and its linkages with constructs central to the field of mental health (see Debats, 1990, 1996, 1998, 1999; Debats, Drost, & Hansen, 1995; Debats, Van Der Lubbe, & Wezeman, 1993; see also Wong & Fry’s, 1998, handbook covering contemporary research on meaning). Regarding its conceptualization, theorists converge in defining existential meaning as a person’s having a sense of coherence and purpose about her or his life (Reker, 2000; Yalom, 1980). A life full of meaning will be pervaded by intention such that a person feels satisfied about her or his reasons for acting as she or he does (Klinger, 1998). Rather than viewing herself or himself as a victim of biological and social pressures or unconscious drives toward pleasure and power, she or he will view her or his behavior and emotions largely as functions of her or his framework for viewing life and the pursuit of her or his most valued commitments (Frankl, 1959/1992; Maddi, 1967). Regarding assessment of existential meaning, two related but unique subconstructs that are linked to psychometrically sound measurement devices have been identified. The first of these involves personal meaning, the extent to which someone views her or his individual life as coherent and purposeful. The second has been called spiritual meaning (Mascaro et al., 2004) and is defined as the extent to which someone views life itself as coherent and purposeful and also derives personal meaning from a force that she or he believes pervades, underlies, arches over, or transcends life. Two psychometrically sound assessment devices that measure individual differences in reported levels of personal and spiritual meaning have been constructed. These are, respectively, the framework subscale from the Life Regard Index (LRI; Battista & Almond, 1973) and the Spiritual Meaning Scale (SMS; Mascaro et al., 2004). Evidence suggests that personal and spiritual meaning are related to enhanced psychological well-being. Personal meaning is the most thoroughly investigated of the concepts. As measured by either the original (Battista & Almond, 1973) or revised (Debats, 1998) LRI framework subscale (LRI-R-framework), personal

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meaning has been found to be related, in the appropriately salubrious directions, to positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988b; Zika & Chamberlain, 1992); anxiety and depression (Debats, 1990; Debats et al., 1993; Zika & Chamberlain, 1992); happiness (Debats, 1990, 1996; Debats et al., 1993; Scannell, Allen, & Burton, 2002); emotional dyscontrol and psychological well-being (Zika & Chamberlain, 1992); elation (Debats, 1990); spiritual well-being (Harris & Standard, 2001; Scannell et al., 2002); hopelessness (Harris & Standard, 2001); and various symptoms of psychopathology (Debats et al., 1993). As measured by the SMS, spiritual meaning appears related in appropriately healthy directions to depression, anxiety, hope, and antisocial features (Mascaro et al., 2004). Furthermore, the SMS and LRI-R-framework were found to explain variance in hope and depression beyond the variance explained by the Big Five personality variables of neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and extraversion (Mascaro et al., 2004). Other sources converge with data from the SMS and LRI-Rframework to support the relevance of meaning to well-being. Significant percentages of individuals suffering from psychopathology appear to have problems revolving around meaninglessness (Yalom, 1980) or existential concerns (Addis, Traux, & Jacobson, 1995), and it has been shown that undergraduates who can remember times when they have experienced their lives as meaningless are more likely to have required psychological counseling in the past than those who cannot recall times when they felt their lives had no meaning (Debats et al., 1995). In addition, because the SMS is clearly related to the variable of spirituality, data regarding the importance of spirituality for optimal emotional functioning support the relationship of spiritual meaning with mental health. Spirituality can be defined as “recognition of a transcendent, meta-empirical dimension of reality” (Emmons, Cheung, & Tehrani, 1998, p. 405) or more simply as “feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors that arise from a search for the sacred” (George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000, p. 104). The relationship between spiritually related constructs and mental health is well documented (Bergin, 1983; Emmons et al., 1998; Gartner, Larson, & Allen 1991; George et al., 2000; Levin & Chatters, 1998; Pardini, Plante, Sherman, & Stump, 2000; Piedmont, 1999). The studies summarized above provide evidence that existential meaning has a broad relationship with psychological health: It

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is consistently related to fewer symptoms of psychopathology and other such “negative variables” and to enhanced levels of positive variables (e.g., elation, hope, spiritual well-being). However, there is clearly a need for research with more diverse populations, for more longitudinal or prospective analyses, and for more precise tests of existential theory. Regarding the need for more precise tests of existential theory, it is notable that one of meaning’s primary virtues has been theorized to be its ability to act as a buffer against stress, such that under high-stress conditions more so than low-stress conditions, a meaning-full attitude provides an individual with resiliency against the loss of hope and against the development of anhedonia, depressive affect, and behavioral disengagement (Frankl, 1959/1992; Maddi, 1967). Such theory suggests that an individual’s level of existential meaning should moderate the extent to which stress induces psychological distress, particularly symptoms of depression and hopelessness. Data and theory suggest that various forms of stress (e.g., major life events, interpersonal stress, daily hassles) are related to increases in symptoms of psychopathology (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981; Kessler, Price, & Wortman, 1985; Myers, Lindenthal, & Pepper, 1975; Rabkin & Struening, 1976). Resiliency variables, or variables that moderate the influence of stress on the development of symptoms of psychological distress, are therefore important to identify, and existential theory suggests that meaning is exactly this sort of variable. Surprisingly, there has been little research using quality measurement devices testing existential meaning’s potential to act as a stress buffer. Consequently, in the current study, we investigated the extent to which the positive relationship between degree of daily stressors and depression, as well as the inverse relationship between degree of daily stressors and hope, becomes weaker as individuals report higher degrees of personal and spiritual meaning. Our hypothesis was that for individuals with higher-than-average levels of spiritual and personal meaning, there would be no relationship between degree of daily stressors and symptoms of depression or levels of hope. However, for individuals with lower-than-average levels of spiritual and personal meaning, we predicted that there would be a positive relationship between degree of daily stressors and depressive symptoms and a negative relationship between degree of daily stressors and levels of hope. Should results turn out as hypothesized, psychometrically sound evidence, consistent with

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the notion that having high levels of meaning in life can buffer against some of the deleterious effects of daily stress, would exist.

METHOD Participants A total of 143 undergraduates enrolled in introductory psychology courses at a large state university located in the Southern United States completed the self-report devices listed below in exchange for course credit. The sample was an ethnically diverse one, of which 25 (17.5%) individuals were Asian, 13 (9.1%) were African American, 49 (34.3%) were Hispanic, 1 (0.7%) was Native American, 49 (34.3%) were Caucasian, and 6 (4.2%) were of other, unidentified ethnicity. Also, 77 (53.8%) of the participants were females. The sample was rather young and homogeneous in terms of age, as the mean age was 18.69 years (SD = 0.95). Materials Personal meaning. The LRI-R-framework (Debats, 1998) was used as a measure of personal meaning. Debats’s (1998) revised version of the LRI-R-framework is slightly altered from the original in that its items are in a different order, one word was deleted from three items, and items are rated on a scale ranging from 1 to 3 rather than from 1 to 5. The LRI-R-framework is a 14-item, Likerttype, self-report scale assessing the extent to which an individual reports having a framework or philosophy for living. It includes such positively worded items as, “I feel like I have found a really significant meaning for leading my life,” and “I have a philosophy of life that really gives my living significance,“ and such negatively worded items as, “I really don’t have much of a purpose for living, even for myself,” and “I really don’t believe in anything about my life very deeply.” The overall LRI—which includes a fulfillment scale in addition to the framework scale—has also been endorsed as a good personal meaning measure (Debats, 1998; Reker, 2000), but we believe that the framework subscale is the part of the LRI that is least confounded by affective content. The fulfillment subscale’s large quantity of affective content can unrealistically inflate the actual relationship between personal meaning and

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outcome variables, which tend to be saturated with affective content (for expanded discussion of this issue, see Mascaro et al., 2004). The LRI-R-framework’s coefficient alpha in the current study was .81. Spiritual meaning. The SMS (Mascaro et al., 2004) was used as the measure of spiritual meaning. The construct of spiritual meaning is defined as belief that life or another power of which life is a function has a purpose, will, or way in which individuals participate. The concept involves the perception that life itself has meaning that individuals can not only discover but in which they can participate in a way that results in a sense of calling or of feeling called on by life to pursue a particular purpose. The development of the SMS and its psychometric properties are described elsewhere (Mascaro et al., 2004). To the original 14-item version of the SMS, we added an item (“Something purposeful is at the heart of this world.”) that accorded with the essence of the spiritual meaning construct. Thus, the final version of the SMS is a 15-item, Likerttype, self-report inventory to which participants respond on a scale ranging from 1 to 5 (I totally disagree to I totally agree). In the current study, the SMS had a coefficient alpha of .91. To ensure that this updated version of the SMS retained its homogeneity and single-factor structure, we subjected the 15 items to a maximum likelihood factor analysis, allowing a single factor to be extracted. Depression. Participants’ depression levels were obtained using the depression scale from the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-depression; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995a) and the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II; Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996). The DASS is a 42-item, Likert-type, self-report inventory that divides into three scales that measure depression, generalized anxiety symptoms, and the more physiological symptoms of anxiety that often characterize panic attacks. The DASS has been shown to have excellent reliability and validity and to compare favorably to the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories (Brown, Chorpita, Korotitsch, & Barlow, 1997; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995b). The DASS-depression contains such items as, “I couldn’t seem to experience any positive feelings at all,” and “I felt sad and depressed,” for which participants indicate the extent to which the statement has characterized them, on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 to 3, during the past week. In the current study, item number 38, “I felt that

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life was meaningless,” was deleted from all analyses because it is clearly confounded with the construct of meaning. Without this item, the DASS depression scale’s coefficient alpha in the current study was .91. The BDI-II is a 21-item, self-report inventory measuring depressive symptomatology. For each item, the participant chooses one of four self-evaluative statements that range in severity from 0 to 3 and that might have characterized her or him during the past 2 weeks. There is strong support for the validity and incremental utility of the BDI-II relative to the original BDI (Beck et al., 1996; Dozois, Dobson, & Ahnberg, 1998). It contains items ranging in severity, for instance, from “I do not feel sad” to “I am so sad or unhappy that I can’t stand it,” and from “I do not feel I am worthless” to “I feel utterly worthless.” In the current study, the BDI-II had a coefficient alpha of .88. Hope. Participants’ levels of hope were assessed using Snyder’s Adult State Hope Scale (ASHS; Snyder et al., 1996) and the Herth Hope Scale (HHS; Herth, 1991). The ASHS has demonstrated good construct validity (Lopez, Ciarlelli, Coffman, Stone, & Wyatz, 2000; Snyder et al., 1996). It consists of two factors: one called agency, pertaining to an individual’s perceived will to ends or goals, and another termed pathways, pertaining to the person’s awareness of means or pathways to those ends or goals. The scale contains six items to which participants respond on an 8-point, Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 8. It includes such items as, “If I should find myself in a jam, I could think of many ways out of it,” and “At the present time, I am energetically pursuing my goals.” In the current study, its coefficient alpha was .78. Herth’s (1991) measure of hope, which has also exhibited good reliability and construct validity (Arnau, Rosen, Finch, & Rhudy, 2002; Herth, 1991), taps a broader construct than Snyder’s instrument, containing a hopelessness component containing such items as, “I feel overwhelmed and trapped,” and “I feel scared about my future,” a component similar to that of agency containing such items as “I have goals for the next 3-6 weeks,” and “I am committed to finding my way,” and an additional component tapping a slightly spiritual optimism and perceived social support, containing such items as, “I can seek and receive help,” and “I believe that good is always possible.” The measure has 30 items, each rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 to 3. For all analyses, item number 24, “I know my life has meaning and purpose,” was deleted because it is confounded with the construct

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of meaning. Not including this item, the HHS’s coefficient alpha in the current study was .87. Stress. To assess the degree of minor stresses or daily hassles faced by each participant within the past 24 hours, we administered the Daily Stress Inventory (DSI; Brantley et al., 1987), which is a checklist of 58 unpleasant events, each of which participants can endorse and rate on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (occurred but was not stressful) to 7 (caused me to panic). Of the various ways of computing DSI scores, the SUM score, which is computed by totaling the ratings for each participant, appears to have the highest correlation with other stress measures (Brantley et al., 1987). This was the score used in the current investigation. The DSI SUM score has good reliability and validity (Brantley et al., 1987), individuals’ SUM scores are significantly lower on weekends than on weekdays (Brantley, Cocke, Jones, & Goreczny, 1988), and their scores are associated significantly with physiological indicators of stress such as increased levels of cortisol and vanillylmandelic acid levels (Brantley, Dietz, McKnight, Jones, & Tulley, 1988). Procedure During two consecutive semesters, the aforementioned participants were recruited to complete the measures noted above. Individuals completed these measures in groups no larger than 40 at various times throughout the two semesters. All participants gave their informed consent before participation and were given course credit in return for volunteering to participate.

RESULTS Statistical Analyses To determine the general relationships among personal and spiritual meaning, depression, hope, and stress, Pearson correlation analysis was employed. Because of the number of simultaneous correlations involved, a significance level of p = .01, as opposed to the standard .05, was adopted. As mentioned earlier, our hypothesis was that meaning would moderate relationships among stress, depression, and hope such that individuals experi-

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encing high levels of meaning would demonstrate a weaker positive relationship between stress and depression and a weaker negative relationship between stress and hope than would individuals experiencing low levels of meaning. Hierarchical regression analysis was used to test this prediction. Eight regression analyses were performed in total, four for personal meaning predicting each of the outcome measures and four for spiritual meaning predicting each of the outcome measures. For each analysis, DSI scores were entered in Step 1 predicting BDI, DASS-depression, HHS, or ASHS scores. In Step 2 of each regression, we added scores for the respective meaning variable, and in Step 3, we added the scores reflecting the interaction between the respective meaning variable and DSI scores (i.e., meaning scores multiplied by DSI scores). We observed whether or not adding the interaction term significantly improved the amount of variance explained in the respective outcome variable and whether or not the beta weight for this interaction term was in the hypothesized direction (i.e., negative when predicting BDI-II and DASS-depression scores and positive when predicting HHS and ASHS scores). Descriptive Statistics Descriptive statistics are listed in Table 1.2 Means and standard deviations for all measures were comparable to those from other studies that utilized nonclinical populations. Factor Analysis of the SMS Factor loadings for a maximum likelihood analysis of the 15 SMS items, with 1 factor extracted, are displayed in Table 2. As can be seen, all items loaded adequately on the extracted factor, which accounted of 42.8% of the variance in item responses. The one factor solution to the data resulted in a chi-square value of 182.8 ( p < .001). Although this value was statistically significant, when it was divided by the degrees of freedom (i.e., 90) for the analysis, it was below the threshold of 2.5 suggested by Kline (1998) for indicating adequate fit between actual data and a hypothesized model. In the current sample, therefore, the SMS items appeared to reflect a single construct, with item content suggesting this construct involves belief in a transcendent force from which one derives as sense of calling or purpose.

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TABLE 1: Maximum Likelihood Factor Loadings for Spiritual Meaning Scale (SMS) Items on the Single Extracted Factor Item Factor Loading .78 .63 .66 .65 .50 .48 .68 .62 .62 .69 .84 .50 .61 .73 .70

1. There is no particular reason why I exist.(–) 2. We are each meant to make our own special contribution to the world. 3. I was meant to actualize my potentials. 4. Life is inherently meaningful. 5. I will never have a spiritual bond with anyone.(–) 6. When I look deep within my heart, I see a life I am compelled to pursue. 7. My life is meaningful. 8. In performing certain tasks, I can feel something higher or transcendent working through me. 9. Our flawed and often horrific behavior indicates that there is little or no meaning inherent in our existence.(–) 10. I find meaning even in my mistakes and sins. 11. I see a special purpose for myself in this world. 12. There are certain activities, jobs, or services to which I feel called. 13. There is no reason or meaning underlying human existence.(–) 14. Something purposeful is at the heart of this world. 15. We are all participating in something larger and greater than any of us.

NOTE: N = 143. When administering the SMS, items are listed in the order they appear in Table 1. Participants are asked to respond to the items on a 5-point scale where 1 = I totally disagree, 2 = I partially disagree, 3 = I’m in between, 4 = I partially agree, and 5 = I totally agree.

Correlations Among Meaning, Hope, Depression, and Stress Pearson correlations between all variables are listed in Table 3. Both meaning measures were significantly positively related to both hope measures and significantly negatively related to both depression measures. The LRI-R-framework, which measures personal meaning, had larger correlations with both depression measures and one of the two hope measures than did the SMS, which measures spiritual meaning. It is notable that neither the meaning measures nor the hope measures were significantly correlated with the DSI, the stress measure. This suggests that meaning and hope may best be conceptualized as personality variables that are less reactive to stress than is depression. This is consistent with our contention that meaning can remain stable in the context of

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TABLE 2: Descriptive Statistics for All Measures LRI-Rframework M SD 33.61 5.47 DASSdepression 6.80 7.50

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SMS 63.33 11.03

BDI-II 10.20 7.50

HHS 67.80 12.09

ASHS 36.32 6.26

DSI 59.43 40.64

NOTE: N = 143. One item was removed from the DASS-depression scale and the HHS because these items were confounded with meaning. LRI-R-framework = framework subscale from the revised Life Regard Index; SMS = Spiritual Meaning Scale; DASS-depression = depression scale from the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales; BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory-II; HHS = Herth Hope Scale; ASHS = Adult State Hope Scale; DSI = Daily Stress Inventory.

changes in stress and is therefore capable of serving as a resiliency factor or in other words a buffer against stress. An implication of the lack of a significant relationship between hope and stress means that it is more important for meaning to buffer the effect of stress on depression than to buffer stress’ effect on hope. Nevertheless, the possibility still exists that individuals with low levels of meaning are increasingly vulnerable to reduced levels of hope in the context of high stress levels. Analyses of the Meaning By Stress Interaction Summarized in Tables 4 and 5, respectively, are the hierarchical regression analyses testing the ability of a spiritual meaning-bystress interaction and a personal meaning-by-stress interaction to predict variance in hope and depression in addition to the variance that meaning and stress explain additively. The results suggest that the positive relationship between the DSI (stress) and depression, as measured by both depression measures, indeed becomes significantly less positive as individuals’ SMS levels increase. To illustrate this trend, changes in the relationship between DSI scores and BDI-II scores as a function of different SMS levels are depicted in Figure 1. Although the LRI-R-framework did not have a significant interaction effect (see Table 5), it did exhibit a trend, similar to that of the SMS, which approached significance (incremental F ratio = 3.62, p = .06 for the BDI-II and 3.25, p = .07 for DASS-depression). With respect to hope, neither the SMS nor the LRI-R-framework exhibited significant stress interaction effects, although the SMS interacted with stress in predicting the ASHS to an extent that approached significance (incremental F ratio = 3.36,

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TABLE 3: Zero-Order Correlations Among Meaning, Hope, Depression, and Stress LRI-RFramework DSI ASHS HHS BDI-II DASS-depression SMS –.17 .59** .54** –.45** –.45** .45** DASSdepression .34** –.53** –.54** .81**

SMS –.03 .36** .57** –.28* –.32**

BDI-II .31** –.54** –.47**

HHS –.12 .58**

ASHS –.21

NOTE: N = 143. LRI-R-framework = framework subscale from the revised Life Regard Index; SMS = Spiritual Meaning Scale; DASS-depression = depression scale from the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales; BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory-II; HHS = Herth Hope Scale; ASHS = Adult State Hope Scale; DSI = Daily Stress Inventory. *p < .005. **p < .001.

p = .07). Therefore, the hypothesis that meaning acts as a stress buffer with regard to depression was partially supported in that spiritual meaning interacted with stress in predicting depression scores. However, virtually no support was found for meaning’s ability to moderate the stress-hope relationship.

DISCUSSION Meaning’s Relationship With Hope and Depression Spiritual meaning. A preliminary statement regarding the newly constructed SMS is warranted. Previous research (Mascaro et al., 2004) supports the construct validity of the 14-item version of the SMS, but the latest version of the SMS contains an additional item. In the current study, a maximum likelihood factor analysis of these 15 items indicated that, as hypothesized, the SMS items reflect a single factor. Based on the SMS’s overt content, this single factor involves a sense of spiritual meaning, or belief in a transcendent force from which an individual derives a sense of purpose or calling. The 14-item SMS’s convergence with other indicators of meaning, and its independence from confounding variables such as social desirability, also support the scale’s construct validity (Mascaro et al., 2004).
(text continues on p. 183)

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TABLE 4: Hierarchical Regression Analyses for Stress, Spiritual Meaning, and Their Interaction Predicting Depression and Hope BDI-II b 0.31 0.30 –0.27 1.9 0.16 –1.7
2

DASS-depression b 0.34 0.33 –0.31 1.6 0.02 –1.3 .06*** .01*** –.21*** .29** .02 –.004* –0.12 –0.11 0.61 0.05 0.61 –0.17 b

HHS

ASHS b –0.21 0.20 .36 –1.2 0.08 1.1 –.03* –.03* .20*** (–.19)* .05 (.002)

Variable .06*** .06*** –.19** .36** .11 –.005**

Step 1 DSI Step 2 DSI SMS Step 3 DSI SMS SMS × DSI

–.04 –.03 .62*** .02 .67*** –.001

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NOTE: N = 143. R = .10 for step 1 predicting BDI-II (F ratio = 14.99, p < .001), .17 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 12.46, p < .005), and .22 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 8.87, p < .005); R2 = .12 for step 1 predicting DASS-depression (F ratio = 18.54, p < .001), .21 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 16.80, p < .001), and .24 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 5.47, p < .05); R2 = .01 for step 1 predicting HHS (F ratio = 2.07, ns), .34 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 67.38, p < .001), and .34 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 0.10, ns); R2 = .04 for step 1 predicting ASHS (F ratio = 6.18, p < .05), .17 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 21.28, p < .001), and .19 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 3.36, ns). SMS = Spiritual Meaning Scale; DSI = Daily Stress Inventory; DASS-depression = depression scale from the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales; BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory-II; HHS = Herth Hope Scale; ASHD = Adult State Hope Scale. *p < .05. **p < .005. ***p < .001.

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BDI-II b 0.31 0.24 –0.41 1.3 –0.15 –1.1 .06*** .04** –.56*** .24* –.21 –.006 0.34 0.27 –0.41 1.3 –0.16 –0.99 .06*** .05*** –.56*** .23* –.23 –.005 –0.11 –0.03 0.54 –0.46 0.43 0.43 b b –.03 –.01 1.2*** –.14 .95* .004 –0.21 –0.11 0.58 –0.59 0.46 0.48 DASS-depression HHS ASHS b –.03* –.02 .66*** –.09 .52** .002
2

TABLE 5: Hierarchical Regression Analyses for Stress, Personal Meaning, and Their Interaction Predicting Depression and Hope

Variable

Step 1 DSI Step 2 DSI LRI-R-framework Step 3 DSI LRI-R-framework LRI-R- framework × DSI

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NOTE: N = 143. R = .10 for step 1 predicting BDI-II (F ratio = 14.99, p < .001), .26 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 30.47, p < .001), and .28 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 3.62, ns); R2 = .12 for step 1 predicting DASS-depression (F ratio = 18.5, p < .001), .28 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 30.96, p < .001), and .29 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 3.25, ns); R2 = .01 for step 1 predicting HHS (F ratio = 2.07, ns), .29 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 55.52, p < .001), and .30 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 0.62, ns); R2 = .04 for step 1 predicting ASHS (F ratio = 6.18, p < .05), .36 for step 2 (incremental F ratio = 70.50, p < .001), and .37 for step 3 (incremental F ratio = 0.86, ns). LRI-R-framework = Life Regard Index Framework subscale; DSI = Daily Stress Inventory; DASS-depression = depression scale from the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales; BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory-II; HHS = Herth Hope Scale; ASHD = Adult State Hope Scale. *p < .05. **p < .005. ***p < .001.

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30

Spiritual Meaning Score = 52 (1 SD below mean)

25

BDI-II Scores

20 Spiritual Meaning Score = 63 (mean) 15

10 Spiritual Meaning Score = 74 (1 SD above mean) 5

0 4 54 104 154 204 254 Daily Stress Inventory Scores

Figure 1 Interaction Between Spiritual Meaning and Daily Stress Predicting Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) Scores

Two pieces of evidence support the hypothesis that spiritual meaning acts as a buffer against the effects of stress on well-being. The first indication is that the SMS did not in the current sample have a significant relationship with the DSI, that is, spiritual meaning was not related to stress and is therefore not likely to change with changes in stress. The second piece of data lending support to the notion that spiritual meaning is a resiliency factor is that as individuals’ levels of spiritual meaning increased, the positive relationship between daily stress and depression weakened— to the point of nonexistence for those with spiritual meaning scores at least one standard deviation above the mean. This was the case for two different depression measures, both of which were negatively correlated with spiritual meaning levels. Therefore, the variable of spiritual meaning has a direct, negative relationship with

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depression but may also play a role in moderating the negative effect of stress on depressive symptoms. In contrast to the findings with depression, spiritual meaning did not significantly moderate the relationship between stress and hope. Besides this, the importance of buffering the effect of stress on hope was reduced because of the fact that no significant zeroorder relationships were found between the stress measure and the measures of hope. Personal meaning. Like spiritual meaning, personal meaning was unrelated to stress, was related positively to hope, and was related negatively to depression. However, the hypothesis that it has a stress-interaction effect on hope or depression did not find support. It is important to remember, though, that the lack of a significant stress interaction does not imply a lack of importance for personal meaning but simply that its relationships with hope and depression are not manifested in interaction with stress. Note, for example, that personal meaning appears to predict more variance in both depression measures and one hope measure than does spiritual meaning. In sum, results of the current study suggest that both personal meaning (having a sense of coherence and purpose about one’s individual life irrespective of the status of life itself or other metaphysical or spiritual considerations) and spiritual meaning (having a sense of purpose or calling derived from beliefs about a spiritual force underlying or arching over life) are related positively to hope and negatively to depression within a nonclinical, ethnically diverse, college-age population. Such findings are consistent with research cited in the introduction. Second and also consistent with previous research, stress was found to be positively related to depression. Our final two findings add unique information to the literature and lend partial support to existential psychological theory. The first is that both personal meaning and spiritual meaning are unrelated to daily stress, consistent with the idea that a sense of meaning is a relatively robust personality feature that is not reactive to stress. Lastly, our most interesting finding is that spiritual meaning’s relationship with depression was manifested directly and in interaction with stress, whereas personal meaning’s was only manifested directly with depression and not in interaction with stress. Part of the explanation for such an outcome might be that beliefs characteristic of spiritual meaning, by connecting the

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individual with concepts that often transcend immediate, selffocused concerns, have increased benefit for health outcomes during aversive situations that are beyond one’s own control. However, a sense of personal meaning (which for various individuals might not involve anything related to spirituality) remains consistently important no matter how stressful a situation is. That is, as long as one can maintain a particular personal meaning in the face of whatever reality might be facing one, such meaning will be linked to decreased depression and increased hope. It would seem important, to the end of maximizing well-being and the robustness of that well-being, to have a well-developed sense of personal meaning that is grounded in something spiritual, something that transcends immediate, self-focused concerns. Study Limitations The current study was not ideal in the respect that it involved clinical variables that were not explored within a clinical population. Similar studies as this one should therefore be conducted within clinical populations. Furthermore, a larger sample size, particularly one with similar ethnic diversity, would be desirable so that the interactions of meaning with cultural variables might be explored. Meaning could be more or less relevant to mental health within different cultures or across genders. It also needs to be noted that only one form of stress, that of daily hassles, was assessed in the current study, and meaning’s interaction with other forms of stress, such as traumatic life events, ought to be investigated. But the most limiting aspect of the present investigation is that it is cross-sectional as opposed to longitudinal. Although the presence of a stress-interaction effect for spiritual meaning on depression levels lends some support to the notion that spiritual meaning can causally influence the variable of depression, only a study tracking these variables across time can indicate whether or not changes in meaning precede, follow, or cooccur with changes in depression. There is a scarcity of longitudinal research on meaning, with the LRI-R-framework being the only of the measures used in the present study that has had longitudinal data published. These data indicated that psychotherapy patients’ LRI-R-framework levels at pretreatment predicted posttreatment happiness and symptom levels, controlling for initial happiness and symptom levels (Debats, 1996). In addition, the

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LRI-R-framework and Wong’s (1998a) Personal Meaning Profile have been shown to predict students’ depression and hope levels (both state and trait) 2 months later, controlling for baseline depression and hope levels and for social desirability and the Big Five personality factors (Mascaro & Rosen, in press). Such results are consistent with the notion that some forms of meaning have causal influence on unique aspects of depression and hope. Study Implications Results of the present research suggest that it might be fruitful to analyze the extent to which meaning-focused psychotherapy, such as Yalom’s (1980) or Maddi’s (1998) existential psychotherapies or Wong’s (1997, 1998b) meaning-centered cognitive therapy, affect mental health through their effects on variables such as personal or spiritual meaning. (This is of course not to say that more mainstream forms of behavioral, cognitive, or dynamic therapy have any less effect on meaning or are any less deserving of study in this regard.) Also, seeing as how meaning appears consistently related to emotional health, expanding research into factors influencing meaning is warranted. And as was shown in the current study, wisdom can be gleaned from considering the heterogeneity of the meaning construct and exploring the differential effects of different forms of meaning on well-being. For instance, qualitative research might be employed to uncover what it is about spiritual meaning that allows it to function as a stress buffer and what it is about personal meaning that gives it an apparently greater zero-order relationship with depressive symptoms than spiritual meaning. Such research might also suggest the extent to which the variable of spiritual meaning is operative in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous that value the recovering individual’s relationship with a higher power. Broadening the vision slightly, as evidence supporting meaning’s role in the nurturance of emotional health within university populations accumulates, the more important it is to consider placing greater emphasis on the study of philosophy, art, world religions, and other humanistic topics that are tied intimately to the construct of meaning. There is no lack of technological know-how in the Western world and among our youth, but there does appear to be diminished understanding of the reasons why we choose to live the way we live and of the ultimate aims that supposedly guide

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our daily lives. As efficiency increasingly becomes for society an end in itself, it is necessary to think seriously about the level of fulfillment such an end really supplies, particularly as it compares to the aims of which individuals become aware as a result of studying the humanities. Whether in a therapeutic, educational, or other context, addressing the subject of meaning in life can induce the sort of ultimate questioning that might alter an individual’s (and one hopes a society’s) momentum toward a chronically mechanized, achromatic, and unfulfilling future.

NOTES
1. Viktor Frankl’s 1946 From Death Camp to Existentialism was the original German version of the more well known, Man’s Search for Meaning, published in 1959. In this work, Frankl described the human quest for meaning and outlined a clinically oriented existential psychology, relating tenets from his theory of existential meaning to his own and others’ survival of the Nazi concentration camps. 2. Men and women scored comparably on all measures except for the Spiritual Meaning Scale, for which women appeared to score higher (t = 3.48, p < .005). Because this was the only measure on which women and men scored unequally, there was not a need to control for gender in the inferential analyses. Moreover, all analyses turned out comparably when controlling and not controlling for gender.

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