On the development of meaning in life among college freshmen: Social relationship antecedents and adjustment consequences

Jianbin LI, Ying-Shuang WANG, Kai DOU, Ya-Fei SHANG

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Abstract

Entering tertiary education is a critical developmental task during emerging adulthood when exploration of life meaning becomes salient. A strong sense of meaning in life (MIL) plays a key role in smooth transition to college. However, little is known about how MIL develops in the first year of college, and even less is studied about the extent to which such development is a function of social relationships and predicts subsequent adjustment outcomes in college freshmen. This three-wave longitudinal research aims to address these underexplored questions, collecting data from Chinese college freshmen regarding their MIL, social relationships with parents, peers, and teachers, and a range of adjustment outcomes (i.e., life satisfaction, adaptation, procrastination, and smartphone addiction) at the second (T1), fourth (T2), and eighth (T3) months upon entry into college (i.e., higher vocational training institute; T1 N = 1,578). Results of latent growth models unravelled that Chinese college freshmen’s MIL showed a slight, but significant, decrease over the first year of college. Positive relationships with mother and teachers were related to higher levels of initial MIL and a positive teacher-student relationship mitigated the decline of MIL over time. In addition, results of path analysis revealed that MIL was concurrently related to better adjustment at both T2 and T3 and that T2 MIL also predicted better adjustment at T3. Mediation analyses further revealed that T2 MIL mediated the associations between T1 teacher-student relationship quality and T3 adjustment, even after controlling for T1 MIL and T2 adjustment. These findings bear important implications for college freshmen’s positive transition to college. Copyright © 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1709–1735
JournalJournal of Happiness Studies
Volume23
Issue number4
Early online dateOct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Citation

Li, J.-B., Wang, Y.-S., Dou, K., & Shang, Y.-F. (2022). On the development of meaning in life among college freshmen: Social relationship antecedents and adjustment consequences. Journal of Happiness Studies, 23(4), 1709–1735. doi: 10.1007/s10902-021-00470-6

Keywords

  • Presence of meaning
  • Interpersonal relationship
  • Well-being
  • Ecological system

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