Meaning in Life and Pain: The Differential Effects of Coherence, Purpose, and Mattering on Pain Severity, Frequency, and the Development of Chronic Pain. Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE: Meaning in life is consistently associated with better health outcomes across a range of mental and physical domains. However, meaning in life is a complex construct involving three distinct facets: coherence, purpose, and mattering. While these facets have been studied individually in relation to pain, they have not been assessed concurrently to parse out their potential distinct contributions to pain outcomes. We sought to identify the unique relationships of these individual facets of meaning with pain experiences and specify the components associated with pain-related resilience. METHODS: The associations of coherence, purpose, and mattering with pain outcomes were examined across three studies. Study 1 used data from the Midlife in the United States National Survey to determine associations between facets and the frequency of various recently experienced pains, and the development of chronic pain nine years later. Study 2 cross-sectionally observed the association between facets and recent pain severity in young adults. Using a diary-type approach, Study 3 captured fluctuations of pain severity in relation to the facets across the span of four weeks. RESULTS: Coherence was uniquely associated with less headache, backache, joint, and extremities pain frequency in Study 1, over and above purpose and mattering, controlling for other health variables. Coherence was also associated with lower odds of developing chronic pain. In Study 2, coherence was associated with less pain severity and fully mediated the relationship between global meaning in life and pain. Study 3 found that coherence predicted the most unique variance in weekly pain fluctuations. CONCLUSION: Across three studies and timescales, coherence was uniquely associated with fewer and less severe pain experiences over and above purpose and mattering. These findings provide support for the value of coherence as a resilience factor in the context of pain and suggest a potential benefit for coherence-specific interventions in clinical settings.

published proceedings

  • J Pain Res

altmetric score

  • 5.05

author list (cited authors)

  • Boring, B. L., Maffly-Kipp, J., Mathur, V. A., & Hicks, J. A.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Boring, Brandon L||Maffly-Kipp, Joseph||Mathur, Vani A||Hicks, Joshua A

publication date

  • January 2022