When is search for meaning in life beneficial for well-being? A cross-national study

Li LIN*, Hoi Wing CHAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Previous research has found cross-national variations in the association between search for meaning in life (SMIL) and well-being (i.e. SMIL–WB link). This study extended and tested a “self-improvement hypothesis” that accounts for such cross-national variations based on an international database—the sixth wave of World Values Survey. SMIL represents a self-improvement effort which is more demanded in contexts with stronger external constraints. Thus, we expected a stronger positive SMIL–WB link in such contexts. A series of multilevel analyses was used to verify this hypothesis. The results showed that the SMIL–WB link varied across different societies, with well-being indexed by happiness, life satisfaction and subjective health. Moreover, external constraints from cultural, social-institutional, economic and ecological contexts (collectivism, peace threats, economic scarcity and environmental threats) moderated the SMIL–WB links. We thus call for advancing SMIL theory by considering person–context interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-84
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This preparation of this manuscript was supported by a start‐up fund of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University awarded to Li Lin.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 International Union of Psychological Science


  • Cross-national variation
  • External constraints
  • Macro context
  • Search for meaning in life
  • Well-being


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