The simple pleasures like a delicious meal or enjoying nature make most people happy, but the psychological mature often need more.
The search for meaning in life promotes greater happiness in those with high levels of psychological maturity, a study suggests.
People with advanced ego development tend to seek out more opportunities for personal growth, the nurturing of others and overcoming challenges.
However, the simple pleasures in life also play an important role in happiness for people at all levels of psychological maturity.
It is the psychologically mature, though, that benefit most from the search for meaning in life.
Paths to happiness
These conclusions come from a study that looked at how people’s paths to happiness change along with their psychological maturity.
The researchers used a theory of ego development introduced by the American psychologist Jane Loevinger.
As people mature psychologically, Loevinger proposed, they attain new strategies for establishing relationships, making sense of life experiences and regulating the self.
Essentially, people move from a pre-occupation with their own desires and emotions to understanding how they differ to others, cope with their feelings and make difficult decisions.
In other words, people slowly learn that they are not the only person in the world and everything does not revolve around what they want, feel or think.
Higher ego development
The researchers tested the ego development, or psychological maturity, of 360 people by using a projective sentence completion task.
These were then assessed by experts.
Dr Evgeny Osin, the study’s first author, explained the test:
“For example, completed sentences such as ‘Being with other people is cool’, ‘… is something I enjoy’ or ‘… is awful’ indicate an early stage of ego development.
In contrast, sentences like ‘Being with other people can be tiresome but often useful’ or ‘…means observing their personality and learning from them’ suggest a more advanced stage of ego development and higher complexity of self-perception.”
Participants were also asked about their levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
This provides an insight into people’s happiness, but only a limited one, explained Dr Osin:
“Emotional well-being functions like a thermometer: we can measure a person’s temperature to assess their overall state—does their life go well? —but the temperature alone is insufficient to make a diagnosis—what kind of life is it?”
Accepting new challenges
The results revealed that people at higher levels of ego development continue to seek out hedonic pleasures, such as pleasure (say, from eating, travelling, entertainment etc.) and comfort.
However, unlike those with lower levels of ego development, they also sought out more meaning in life.
They had a greater desire for personal development; to reach out and accept new challenges for themselves and explore.
Age, though, was no barrier to psychological immaturity, Dr Osin said:
“Interestingly, in adults, the level of ego development is no longer contingent upon age.
While some individuals progress to higher levels of psychological maturity as they age, others remain at the impulsive or self-protective stages without further advancement.
The study demonstrates that the meaning of life is not an abstract notion, but a real-life challenge that individuals encounter as they attain a higher level of personal maturity.
It is highly likely that everyone, at some point in their life, will confront this challenge.”
How to experience meaning in life
Here are some quick tips from psychological research for how to inject more meaning into life:
- A sense of belonging to a social group gives more meaning to life.
- Seven steps to a more meaningful life includes meditation, movement and maximisation.
- Meaningful films help people cope with life’s problems.
- Meaningfulness is the most important aspect of work.
- How to savour everyday experiences.
- People search most actively for meaning in life in their twenties and then again after reaching their sixties.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Osin et al., 2023).
Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.
This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.