Photo of Dr. Dmitry LeontievDmitry A. Leontiev, Ph.D., Dr.Sc., Professor of Psychology, Moscow State University, Russia, Vice-President of Moscow division of Russian Psychological Society, Board Member of International Society for Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy. Professor Leontiev is an expert in personality theory, research and assessment, psychology of art and psychology of advertising. His teaching and research topics vary from assessment techniques to personality theories, from advertising to existential issues; he also does much editorial and publishing work introducing classical and contemporary Western authors to Russian readers.

After his recent book “The Psychology of Personal Meaning” (1999), where he developed a comprehensive theory of meaning-based regulation of activity and mental processes in humans, Dmitry A. Leontiev is focusing at the existential approach to the autodetermined human being as complementary to the traditional mainstream approach to the determined human being. He has become the founder and the head of Institute of Existential Psychology and Life Enhancement (EXPLIEN) in Moscow (2001).

Dr. Leontiev will be presenting a lecture on Meaning and Well-being: From Confrontation to Synergy.

Presentation Abstract:

Meaning and Well-being: From Confrontation to Synergy

Both in philosophy and psychology the ideas on meaning and well-being developed apart from each other in quite different traditions. The idea of well-being as happiness has a long and branched history, while the idea of meaning is much younger and fuzzier. Now they seem to meet again. However, both traditions are too different to interact smoothly; they are still to know each other better in order to give birth to a new synergy.

Happiness was a matter of public debates in ancient times, and Varro in ancient Rome counted nearly 300 views on happiness. After medieval moratorium on the subject, the issue revived since Renaissance, became the philosophical battlefield since the end of the 19th century and the field of empirical studies in the last quarter of the 20th. The concept of meaning  in psychology-relevant contexts appeared in hermeneutics in the 16th century, attracted attention in the humanities by the end of the 19th, generated a number of isolated psychological theories in 1930s-1980s (see Leontiev, 1996) and a number of inspiring studies and multidimensional models (Baumeister, Debats, Reker, Wong) in 1990s. However, there is still nothing like a coherent research field.

First contacts between these two traditions were not very friendly; quest for happiness articulated as a value principle by utilitarian philosophy and its allies became a target of strong criticism by Russian religious philosophers (Solovyev, Frank, Trubetskoi, Berdyaev) in 1890s-1920s, and in a very similar way by Victor Frankl in 1940s-1960s; in both cases meaning was proposed as a more relevant explanatory and value principle (see Leontiev, 2005).

Emerging positive psychology in the 21st century gave a new impulse to the issue of meaning, acknowledging it one of the main constituents of well-being. Indeed, it has been shown in a number of studies that meaning is important for and in a substantial degree predictive of well-being. However, there are no convincing theoretical models. Another problem seems to be the issue of discriminant validity: it is easier to show that meaning, happiness, health etc. are connected than to show the difference between them and to specify the unique contribution of each variable.

I would like to discuss two non-linear models of relationships between meaning and happiness. The one is combinatorial model of experiences created in order to find a solution of the problem of flow experiences emerging in some meaningless or even criminal activities. The model differentiates some complex experiences in terms of combinations of three elementary experiences irreducible to each other, namely pleasure, meaning, and effort. Flow is made of effort and pleasure; meaning is to be added for truly optimal experience, engagement. Enjoyment is defined as combination of pleasure and meaning. Some empirical data reveal the heuristic value of the model. The second is eudaimonia 3D model that refers to human fulfillment rather than experiences; its three dimensions are positive emotions, meaning, and self-regulated activity.