Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
In the field of positive psychology, or psychofortology, there are many theories and explanations about the nature of psychological well-being and how it can be enhanced, yet little is known about lay people's experiences and definitions of happiness, meaningfulness and other facets of well-being. The focus of this study is on meaningfulness as a facet of psychological well-being. In the search for an encompassing conceptualisation of psychological well-being two schools of thought have emerged, namely the hedonic and eudaimonic perspectives. Meaningfulness is a core component of well-being as conceptualised in the eudaimonic perspective. Little is known about how important various life domains are in people's experiences of meaningfulness, and whether there are differences among life domains in this regard. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore what the most meaningful things were in the lives of a group of South Africans as experienced by them on ground level, and what the role of different life domains were in their experience of meaningfulness. As cultural factors may influence the importance of various expressions of psychological well-being, it was decided to select a culturally homogeneous (relatively individualistic) group of Afrikaans and English-speaking participants in early adulthood for this explorative study. This study forms part of the international Eudaimonic-Hedonic Happiness Investigation project (EHHI) conducted in seven countries, and is linked to the FORT3 project (The prevalence of levels of psychosocial health: dynamics and relationships with biomarkers of (ill)health in South African social contexts). The current study reports on the South African data with regard to meaningfulness as experienced by a relatively individualistic cultural group. Equal numbers of males and females (N=104) between the ages 30 and 50 years with secondary or tertiary education training were selected. Respondents were identified by the researchers, after which the "snowball" method was used to reach other possible participants. After giving informed consent, participants completed the Eudaimonic-Hedonic Happiness Instrument (EHHI-i) with open-ended questions on, amongst others, the most meaningful things for people, and why they are meaningful. Rating scales on the degree of meaningfulness experienced in various life domains were also completed. A richness of information was thus sought through triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data-gathering methods. The qualitative data were coded, and codes were abstracted into higher order categories and transformed into percentage responses per category. For the quantitative data the average score per life domain was calculated. Qualitative as well as quantitative findings show that family (1st) and spirituality (2nd) are the two life domains that gave the most meaning in life. It was indicated that meaning was found in the mere belonging to a family and the influence family has on one's personal life. Spirituality gave meaning in knowing that a God exists and that life has a purpose. It may be that, in the South African context, spirituality is used as a coping mechanism to feel in control and to understand difficulties in life. None of the other participating countries in the EHHI project indicated that spirituality was such an important part of meaning in their lives. The other domains that played a valuable role in giving meaning in life were: work, health, interpersonal relations and personal growth. The life domains that proved relatively less meaningful in the respondents' lives were leisure/relaxation, life standard and activities involving the community and society. The lack of meaningful involvement in the community could probably be traced back to South Africa's history, and there are indications suggesting that at present Afrikaans and English speaking South Africans may tend to focus internally on themselves and their families. However, this seems to be a global trend. The results showed that intrinsic rather than external motivations give meaning to life. Theoretically it is important to note that the degree of meaningfulness experienced differs in various life domains and that the content of meaningfulness in a person's life should be evaluated accordingly. A better knowledge of psychological well-being and meaningfulness can be valuable in the development of interventions and therapeutic programmes. Psychological well-being can be enhanced and pathology prevented by taking into account and implementing methods that involve the most important specifi c meaningful life domains in people's lives.
Keywords : Experience of meaning; meaningfulness; South African; eudaimonic perspective; hedonic perspective; life domains; psychological well-being; psychofortology; positive psychology; family; spirituality; health; work; leisure; standard of life; community involvement.