Existing empirical literature has typically treated meaning and purpose as identical. Based on previous theoretical propositions of these two constructs as distinct we hypothesized that meaning (defined as a sense of comprehension and significance in life) and purpose (defined as a sense of goals aims and direction in life) would have different predictors and correlates. We utilized a longitudinal design and collected data from 167 cancer survivors at two time points one year apart. Although meaning and purpose were strongly correlated they had different predictors and correlates. Regression analyses showed Time 2 meaning was predicted by Time 1 spirituality whereas Time 2 purpose was predicted by Time 1 social support. At Time 2 meaning was positively correlated with posttraumatic growth and negatively with posttraumatic depreciation whereas purpose was negatively correlated with intrusive thoughts pertaining to cancer. Implications of an understanding of meaning and purpose as distinct constructs are discussed.
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