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The Anatomy of Meaning

Updated: Feb 6

"Open-minded people don't care to be right; they care to understand." - Anonymous.

In my previous article, I shared Meaningful Purpose Psychology's definition of meaning as an aim (intentions and goals) backed by causes (reasons, motives, and justifications). But what is a meaning made of? What is its makeup or construction? Does it have genetic makeup?

Meaning is an aim (intentions and goals) backed by causes (i.e., reasons, motives, and justifications).

As far as we know, at the time of this publication, Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP) is the only meaning-based science with a meaning construct. Our construct explains how individuals perceive, create, and derive meaning from their experiences. It is pertinent to therapy, coaching, counseling, consulting, and other helping professions.


Now, a couple of important points:

Let's dive in.

Meaning's Building Blocks

In Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP), meanings have six "types" (factors) grouped into three categories (domains).

What meanings are made of.
Logoteleology's Meaning Construct

I will first describe the types and then the categories in the following article. These types are part of our mental meaning portfolio. All behavior can be described through this meaning construct.

  1. Attributions:

    1. A person's defining and inherent character traits or qualities. Related to identity, any time we say, "I am …" or You are …" etc., we are making an Attribution. We self-describe and describe others through Attributions. It can be a standalone "type," which gives meaning to self and others.

    2. An ascription, designation, or inputting of intent. Whenever we credit or attribute actions or consequences – as in "I succeeded thanks to Harry's kind help." – we attribute or assign intent.

Two ways to understand attributions

Attributions answer questions such as "Who am I? "and "How do I show up in life?". Attributions are relevant because they reveal important information, such as our self-esteem and the opinions we hold of others. As we will learn through these series, Attributions interact with the other types. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's learn about the others, continuing with the second type.

If we close our ears to words and concentrate on observing actions, we would find that each person has formulated his individual "meaning of life" and that all his opinions, habits, and character traits are in accordance with this meaning.
~ Alfred Adler~

2. Beliefs: A view of what is true or real. Beliefs derive from knowledge. We all have a mental encyclopedia, dictionary, and video library. We have a storage place called "memory" where we save information and can often access data on command. However, there are exceptions which I will cover in a future article. The Belief meaning type is the intellectual information bank, allowing us to leverage language and other resources to respond to daily demands.

Beliefs are stored in memory.
Beliefs come from Knowledge

… people develop beliefs that organize their world and give meaning to their experiences. These beliefs may be called "meaning systems," and different people create different meaning systems" "… people's beliefs about themselves (their self-theories) can create different psychological worlds, leading them to think, feel, and act differently in identical situations."
~ Carol Dweck ~

3. Values: This type reveals a person's principles and standards of behavior. Values are what make self-regulation possible. We believe that a self-regulation system – including humans – is regulated by "regulations" or values (and forgive the redundancy). Countries have constitutions and legal frameworks; organizations have policies and procedures; couples make marriage vows; and, among others, we handshake commitments and hold ourselves accountable for our word. Finally, the Values meaning type is the depository of the human conscience and regulates behavior.

The Values meaning type is the depository of the human conscience and regulates behavior.

Conscience is part of our value system

Other prominent authors and researchers have much to say about Values.

Values, defined by Frankl as "universal meaning," under normal circumstances provide useful guidelines toward meaning.

Nevit Sanford pointed out that educators must do more than emphasize values. They must stress the meanings behind values.
~ Joseph B. Fabry ~
Logotherapy conceives of conscience as a prompter, which, if need be, indicates the direction in which we have to move in a given life situation. In order to carry out such a task, conscience must apply a measuring stick to the situation one is confronted with, and this situation has to be evaluated in the light of a set of criteria in light of a hierarchy of values.
In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, life's meaning is an unconditional one, at least potentially. That unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by the unconditional value of each and every person.
~Viktor Frankl ~

Modern Life offers people a wealth of some forms of meaning, but it doesn't offer clear guidance about fundamental values. The "values gap," as I shall call it, is the single biggest problem for the modern western individual in making a life meaningful.
~ Roy F. Baumeister ~

4. Feelings: A sensory, affective, and intuitive experience perceived through our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. As alluded to previously, it includes our intuition. Feelings mean something. They help answer "What is behind this sensation?" and thoughts like "Pay attention to this sensation; it might be important." Feelings, such as love, peace, serenity, fear, anger, pain, joy, inspiration, and exhilaration, help us explain an event's affective experience. Feelings are not the same as motivation. In MP, Feelings are sensory experiences, while motivation is energy-in-motion.

Labeling a sensation is one way to define "meaning."
~ Sonia March Nevis ~

Feelings come in many types

5. Attitudes: The learned, relatively stable tendency to respond to people, concepts, objects, and events in an evaluative way through a like/don't like continuum. Consider how you move towards people, places, and foods you enjoy. Think also about how you tend to move away from people, places, and foods you dislike or distrust. Or perhaps you do not care one way or the other. Any of these is an expression of attitude.

Attitudes incline us one way of the other

As a rule, Feelings incite Attitudes. Attitudes betray or reveal temperament and disposition. It can be said that Feelings and Attitudes are close sensory siblings where they reveal and complement one another. All attitudes have complementary feelings and vice versa.

Meanings in activities and experiences are easily perceived. More difficult to see is Frankl's contention that meaning can also be found in attitudes when we face unavoidable suffering.
~ Joseph B. Fabry ~

6. Aims: Think of Aim as a mental Central Processing Unit (CPU). It serves as a critical thinking gate where meaning content is vetted. Aim gathers, organizes, and makes sense of information from the other types to form an intention or a goal. Its task is to determine what should be done and why. The "why" are causes or reasons, motives, and justifications that produce an aim.

Aims facilitate the meaning types.

Think of Aim as a meeting facilitator who gathers input from the team, makes coherent sense of the data, and proposes a solution to move forward.

An Aim can be:

  • Aim-Intention:

    • An aim-intention is when you're thinking about doing something but haven't committed to it. For example, if I aim-intend to do the dishes, it means I've thought about it, but the dirty dishes are still in the sink. It's on my to-do list, but I haven't done it yet. This could happen because of procrastination; they are just plans, dreams, a lack of confidence, or insufficient information. Someone with an aim-intention might say, "I'm not ready to move forward at this time."

  • Aim-Goal:

    • An aim-goal is a clear and committed choice that makes you take action. Think of it as moving from just thinking about something (aim-intent) to doing it with determination. For instance, imagine someone going from thinking about doing the dishes (aim-intent) to actively and purposefully doing them (aim-goal).

  • Aim-Aspirational Striving:

    • Aim-aspirational striving is when you purposefully pursue something you genuinely want to achieve. This kind of aim is well thought out and is driven by noble and personal ambitions. For example, someone aiming to become a doctor to help others showcases aim-aspirational striving. It's about having a deep commitment to virtuous and meaningful goals.

  • Aim-Compulsory Drive:

    • Aim-compulsory drive is when you feel forced or compelled to do something. This often comes with a sense of reacting to external pressures, like not wanting to go to work (Sunday blues) or celebrating getting through the week (Humpday) because it means you're closer to the weekend. These feelings show aim-compulsory drives in action.

If you ask yourself why these different types of Aims are important to a certified MP therapist, coach, or consultant, you ask a smart question. Among others, the type of Aim reveals

  • the quality of the meaning

  • forecasts the eventual degree and type of motivation

  • potential actions and outcomes

In future articles, I will explain the quality of meaning, how to measure it, and Logoteleology's (MP) motivation construct.

Practical Application

I initiated this article with a quote from an anonymous source: "Open-minded people don't care to be right; they care to understand." Achieving genuine open-mindedness requires the inclination and capacity to comprehend the meaning we attribute to people and situations.

Understanding the meaning behind what we do is crucial. It helps us figure out our goals and the reasons, motives, and justifications behind our actions. This understanding not only lets us consider better options but also allows us to see our behavior and others' actions in a new light. This perspective can be liberating for those trying to uncover the reasons behind the outcomes in their lives.

What’s Next

My next article will explain the Attribution Factor or Type in greater detail, particularly why it is relevant to understanding its role in personality and outcomes. We will explore when Attributions help, as well as their dark side, and what to do about it.

The Paths We Choose – A Workshop

We encourage you to attend our next "The Paths We Choose Workshop," planned for Sunday, December 10th, 2023, in Westfield, MA, to learn more about meaning and the meaningful path. For more information on this and future sessions, click The Paths We Choose: A Workshop | authorluismarrero. This session was planned for individuals who have difficulty taking time off from work during the regular workweek.

21st Century Workplace Forum: Cultivating Meaningful and Prosperous Workplaces

A Second-Wave Organization Development Perspective

If you wish to be part of a cohort to discuss and develop solutions for healthy workplaces, please select the "Contact" box below to let us know you wish to participate in this forum. Or you can write to me directly:

For more information or help, you can contact us by clicking below:

Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose: Discovering Life's Answers. ™


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