Demographic, deployment and post-deployment experiences predict trajectories of meaning in life in OEF/OIF/OND veterans

The Journal of Positive Psychology

C. L. Park, S. J. Sacco, S.W. Kraus, C. M. Mazure & R. A. Hoff


Research consistently links U.S. military veterans’ meaning in life to better mental health and well-being. Yet, because meaning in life is usually studied as a precursor of other aspects of wellbeing, much remains to be learned about veterans’ meaning in life itself. Two key questions are (1) how well do veterans maintain a sense of meaning in life over time? and (2) what determines their sense of meaning in life over time? We sought to answer these questions across a one-year period in a sample of 542 Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation New Dawn veterans following military service. Three distinct meaning trajectories were identified: (1) moderately high and stable, (2) low and increasing, and (3) low and decreasing, with group membership approximately 79%, 16% and 5%, respectively. Predictors of trajectory membership included demographic factors (i.e., gender and race), deployment experiences (i.e., combat exposure and aftermath, unit support, and meaningful engagement) and post-deployment resources (i.e., social support and religiousness). These results suggest that a substantial minority of veterans experience low and even declining meaning in life that may substantially impair their quality of life and well-being. Suggestions for identifying veterans vulnerable to low levels of life meaning and for interventions to increase meaning are provided.

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