Researching meaning in life brings disturbing realization

I recently took a popular psychology test that measures whether or not you experience meaning in your life as well as how engaged and motivated you are in finding or deepening your life’s meaning. It’s called the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, developed by Michael F. Steger, a psychology professor at Colorado State University.

I feel my life is meaningful. I’ve never felt my life to be meaningless. My family and work, along with a variety of activities and engagements I enjoy, in general, give my life meaning. I’m gracious to be alive and well, and I do try to focus on becoming a better human being overall. In the grand scheme of things, life has deep meaning for me as an individual and I am actively engaged in what I find to be meaningful pursuits; and, by the way, I’m not religious.

How I Scored
The Meaning in Life Questionnaire scored me relatively low on the life-with-sincere-meaning scales. The results revealed that I may feel lost; I don’t experience too much love and joy; I may often feel anxious, nervous, sad and depressed; and people who know me would more than likely describe me as a worrying sort who is not socially active. Such a dismal prognosis – Yikes!  However, I can only agree with the not-so-socially-active part. In my early old age, I am learning toward gerotranscendence. The rest of the results are simply not accurate.

To be clear, it was noted on the questionnaire to “please keep in mind that these are really only guesses and should not in any way be considered diagnostic.” In addition, Steger co-authored an article in 2010 (The Relevance of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire to Therapeutic Practice: A Look at the Initial Evidence) published in The International Forum for Logotherapy, where he wrote that research has supported the questionnaire’s “high reliability of scale scores,” and that it “can reliably provide information to therapists [especially logotherapists] about levels of experience and sought meaning among their clients.” At the same time, in the article’s conclusion Steger noted that the questionnaire had its limitations and “does not capture idiosyncratic, complex, and rich aspects of meaning in life.” Hmm…

I started thinking that Steger – a respectable scholar who is a prominent researcher in the field of psychology – might need to reevaluate the validity of his questionnaire. Then again, maybe I was an anomaly, which is a place I typically inhabit. Maybe it was how I felt only at the moment when I answered the 3 to 5-minute questionnaire with 10 items – by rating them on a 7-point scale from absolutely untrue to absolutely true – and was really not indicative of my overall true colors. I should have answered the questions a second time, perhaps a day or two later, to see if I’d garner the same results, but I did not.

Undark Brings Light
Then I read a recently published article in Undark, headlined Scientists Rarely Admit Mistakes. A New Project Wants to Change That, and my suspicions about the questionnaire started to lean more heavily toward the possibility of the questionnaire being bogus.

Undark is “a non-profit, editorially independent digital magazine exploring the intersection of science and society” that publishes articles I have always found to be extraordinarily thought-provoking. The gist of the article is as follows:

Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that most published research findings are false. A 2016 survey by Nature of more than 1,500 scientists found that more than 70 percent of researchers failed to successfully reproduce another researcher’s work and more than half failed to reproduce their own. Psychology is one of the most affected disciplines, with studies suggesting that wearing red makes one more attractive, or that smiling makes people happier, proving difficult for follow-up researchers to reproduce.

The article went on to introduce a related project, not surprisingly managed by a team of psychology professors, that is geared toward possibly rectifying this issue. It’s called the Loss in Confidence Project. Its basic essence is to have researchers in the field of psychology publicize announcements admitting when they have lost confidence in any of their studies “for any reason.” This is done to “potentially help prevent other researchers from wasting resources conducting replications or extensions that may be unlikely to succeed.” The FAQ section of the site has more information.

Entering the Rabbit Hole
This concerned me greatly, because, in recent months, I have been reading dozens of articles written by leading psychologists from around the world. Most have been about several broad topics that have implications for the aging population: eudaimonic well-being (EWB), hedonic well-being (HWB), subjective well-being (SWB), meaning and purpose in life, life satisfaction, and various other related topics – all published going back to the 1980s (and some earlier) up through today. These are topics in the realm of psychology – many of which are now being slotted under the umbrella term of “positive psychology” and “happiness” and turned into best-selling books – that have been consistently growing in popularity these days.

Many of these academic articles have raised a “pointless bull shit” flag in my mind. In my opinion, there is an overabundance of energy-wasting common sensical facts of life over described and over analyzed in numerous articles featuring page after page of long-winded, esoteric writing. Now, of course, not all of the articles bring this kind of reaction – many are enlightening about the human condition – but I’d say, roughly speaking, at least 50 percent would fit snugly within the category of unnecessary BS.

Oh the meaninglessness of it all!

Is it time to go back to more philosophical and spiritual studies?

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