On knowing more than we can tell: Intuitive processes and the experience of meaning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Scopus citations


Conceptually defining meaning and meaning in life has proven to be difficult. We suggest that this difficulty reveals an important fact about meaning. Meaning is, at least in part, the result of processes that are not available to awareness except as vague, intuitive gut feelings. We present evidence that common features of meaning are the product of unconscious processes, and we argue that these processes can give rise to intuitive impressions suggesting the presence of meaning. We review evidence from divergent areas supporting the assertion that meaning is, at least in part, an intuitive feeling. The study of meaning in life is reliant on self-reports that tap into participants' intuitive notions of meaning. We argue that this approach is appropriate because the experience of meaning includes an emergent feeling that arises from unconscious processes. Implications of this perspective for the understanding of meaning and its measurement are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-482
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Positive Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • meaning
  • sense of coherence

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