Mind & Body

This Science-Backed Quiz Will Measure Your Meaning in Life

What's your life's purpose? That is, what gets you out of bed in the morning, motivates you to work hard, and makes difficult times more bearable? You might have an answer immediately, or it might take you a minute. You also may not have any answer at all. (The Curiosity office is all over the map, if that helps.) Luckily, scientists have come up with a way to measure just how much meaning you have in your life and how hard you're looking for it. Keep reading to learn why having purpose in life is so important, then find a link to the Meaning in Life Questionnaire at the bottom of this article.

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The Pros of Purpose

"Meaning in life" is a difficult concept to pin down since it can mean so many different things to so many different people. You might believe your life has meaning because everything is going your way, but you also might find meaning in your resolve to weather any storm. You probably wouldn't expect to find such a nebulous concept in a scientific journal. But there's actually plenty of research into the topic, from the benefits of having a sense of purpose to the best ways to help you find one.

Studies show that having meaning in your life helps you deal with stressful life events. "Everything happens for a reason" isn't always the kindest thing to say to a grieving person, but it comes from a desire to project purpose onto a painful situation. Having a purpose helps you make sense of your circumstances, and that can give you a feeling of control when you might otherwise feel helpless.

A 2014 study from Florida State University bears this out: When people were randomly assigned to repeat either statements about life lacking meaning (like "Human life seems like a useless, meaningless treadmill") or unrelated statements, then asked to visualize a particularly grueling job interview, those who had mused on the futility of existence felt significantly more stressed. On the flip side of the coin, another experiment showed that people who had more stressful events in their future were more actively searching for meaning in life.

Having a sense of purpose isn't just good for you mentally, however. It's also good for you physically. People with a strong sense of purpose in life also go to the doctor more, spend less time in the hospital, and recover faster after surgery. They also exercise more. Last year, researchers from Northwestern University found that people who reported more meaning in their lives also reported getting better sleep.

The Questionnaire

But how exactly do scientists measure people's meaning in life? Often, it's with the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, an inventory developed in 2006 by Michael Steger, Patricia Frazier, Shigehiro Oishi, and Matthew Kaler. This 10-item questionnaire is designed to measure the presence of meaning in a person's life and the degree to which they're searching for meaning.

You can take the questionnaire right here, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness program. After you create a login and password (you won't get spammed, promise), you'll see a series of 10 statements, such as "I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful" and "I am always looking to find my life's purpose." You'll indicate how true each statement is on a 7-point scale, from "absolutely true" to "absolutely untrue." Once you're done, you'll get two scores, one on "presence," or how much meaning you have in life; and one on "search," or how actively you're searching for meaning. You'll also get a brief rundown of what your scores mean for you.

Like any online quiz, take the results with a grain of salt, and consider consulting a professional therapist if you're feeling distressed by your answers. But with a little knowledge about how your sense of meaning stacks up, you might be able to better assess where you want to go from here. We hope you find your life's meaning, whatever that means to you!

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The all-time greatest book on meaning in life is "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl, a man who survived the horrors of concentration camps during Holocaust to become a psychiatrist and researcher. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer September 21, 2018

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