Self-transcendence or self-enhancement: People’s perceptions of meaning and happiness in relation to the self
Abstract: We all desire to have meaningful experiences in life, but what factors give rise to perceptions of meaning? Across 7 preregistered studies (total N = 1362), we examined the role of self-transcendence (i.e., benefits to society) and self-enhancement (i.e., benefits to the self) in people’s judgments of meaning, in comparison to their judgments of happiness. We found that people weighed benefits to society more heavily than benefits to the self when evaluating the meaning of different jobs (Study 1), other people’s life (Study 2a), and advice given to others (Study 2b). In contrast, benefits to the self were weighed similarly to (Studies 1-2) or even more heavily than benefits to society (Study 3) in people’s judgments about happiness, suggesting people’s meaning judgment is more self-transcendent than happiness judgment. Similar differences between meaning and happiness were found in participants’ first-party perceptions of their own jobs (Study 4), advice intended to improve their own lives (Study 5), and actual feelings of completing a behavioral task (Study 7), except that self-enhancement played a relatively bigger role in first-party meaning judgments than in third-party meaning judgments (Studies 4-6). The results consistently suggest that people’s meaning perceptions are more self-transcendent than their happiness perceptions (Studies 1-7). Our findings help illuminate the social cognitive processes underlying people’s perceptions of meaning, as well as shed light on the similarities and differences between people’s conceptualizations of meaning and happiness.
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Huang, M., & Yang, F. (2022). Self-transcendence or self-enhancement: People’s perceptions of meaning and happiness in relation to the self. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1–67.