Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Scale: Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ) – Presence of Meaning Scale

What it measures:

  • A youth’s general sense of meaning in his or her life.

Intended age range: 12-year-olds to young adults

Brief description: This measure consists of 5 items that assess the extent to which a youth feels his or her life has meaning and a clear purpose. Sample items include “I understand my life's meaning” and “My life has a clear sense of purpose.” Response options are: Absolutely untrue, Mostly untrue, Somewhat untrue, Can’t say true or false, Somewhat true, Mostly true, or Absolutely true.

Rationale: The scale was selected because of its relative brevity and its evidence of reliability and validity across gender, age, and racial and national groups. The questionnaire is translated into over two dozen languages.

Cautions: It is important to keep in mind a youth’s developmental level when administering and interpreting responses on this measure. Some children at the lower end of the intended age range may not understand the abstract concept of meaning or purpose in life.

Special administration information: None.

How to score: Each item is scored on a 7-point scale from 1 (Absolutely untrue) to 7 (Absolutely true). One item (“My life has no clear purpose”) is reverse coded. The total score is the average of all 5 items (after reverse coding of the one item).

How to interpret findings: A higher score indicates a greater perceived sense of meaning in life. A scoring and interpretation guide for the Meaning in Life Questionnaire can be found here.

Access and permissions: The measure is available for non-commercial use with no charge and can be found here. The original validation study for the scale is available here.

Alternatives: The Meaning and Purpose Scale – short form (4- and 8-item versions are available) is a good alternative to the Presence of Meaning Scale, especially for use with younger children. The measure is part of the PROMIS item bank and is designed for use with children as young as 8 years old. It is available here in a 4-item version or here in an 8-item version.


Citation: Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 80-93. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.53.1.80

More in this category: « Self-Esteem Ethnic Identity »

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