The Meaning Frame Theory: Meaning Arises With Reference Points

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Meaning in life is an abstract construct but researchers have found a way to conduct empirical studies. Recent theoretical developments suggest that significance (or mattering), comprehension, and purpose are main components of meaning in life. This paper introduces the meaning frame theory indicating that meaning of a target person or object arises when there are reference points for the target. Meaning does not occur without frames that can situate a target in the frames. Three different frames are presented and the meta-theory argues that meaning in one’s life can be understood through one or a combination of the frames. The agent-to-self frame suggests a meaning of one’s life arises to the self and this frame helps make sense of one’s life through self and identity. The purpose-to-agent frame indicates that purpose is meaningful for the agent and works as a motivator in providing meaning. The agent-to-others frame suggests that one’s life is meaningful to others who recognize their value. The meaning frame theory also provides three premises that define the strength and the quality of meaning; (a) meaning is clearer when a relationship with a reference point can be more concretely defined; (b) less subjective justification indicates more definite meaning of a target to its reference; and (c) multi-framed meaning is more resistant to adverse changes. The implications and other research questions relevant to the theory are discussed and future directions are proposed.

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Journal of Happniess Studies

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