Existential mattering: Bringing attention to a neglected but central aspect of meaning?

Login S. George, Crystal L. Park

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

24 Scopus citations


Most current literature on meaning uses the term meaning to refer to a variety of different specific aspects, such as having a sense of goals, direction, significance, fulfillment, engagement in valued activities, ability to make sense of life, and so forth. One essential aspect of meaning that has yet to receive focused and in-depth attention is existential mattering (EM). EM can be defined as the degree to which individuals feel that their lives are of value and significance in the world. Although EM is an implicit part of the current theoretical and empirical literature on meaning, it is rarely given adequate and focused attention. In this chapter, we discuss EM at length. Citing the work of prior theorists, we highlight how EM may play a crucial role in individuals’ lives, and how individuals are strongly inclined to see their lives as having significance and value. We argue that future theoretical and empirical work that specifically focuses on EM, without conflating it with other aspects of meaning, may foster more nuanced theorizing and research regarding how different aspects of meaning, such as EM, may be related to important variables such as spirituality, resilience, well-being, and death anxiety. We briefly examine EM as it exists in the current empirical literature on meaning. Further, we discuss EM as it relates to Terror Management Theory (TMT). We argue that the construct of EM is intimately tied to TMT. TMT argues that individuals are motivated to feel that their lives are of enduring value, and to feel that they are valued members of a reality that transcends death. TMT conceptualizes self-esteem as the construct that best taps this motivation. Contrary to this, we argue that EM may capture this motivation more accurately than does self-esteem. Research that examines EM in the context of TMT is warranted, as EM may provide additional explanatory power beyond that provided by self-esteem. We conclude the chapter with directions for future research on EM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMeaning in Positive and Existential Psychology
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781493903085
ISBN (Print)9781493903078
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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