Existential Economics 

Given how central the need for meaning is to the human experience, it is not surprising that this need both influences and is influenced by economic decisions and goals. Our lab is examining the many ways meaning connects to financial concerns, educational and professional goals, consumer decision-making, and philanthropy.

We find that money is important for meaning, but it generally isn’t the amount of money people make that matters. It is the financial security that money provides that helps sustain meaning. When people feel financially secure, regardless of how much they make, they are more likely to experience life as meaningful. When financial security is threatened (e.g., fear of a recession), meaning is threatened. However, material goals such as the pursuit of wealth are more connected to meaning for people high in the trait of narcissism.

As part of our research on nostalgia, we find that people are motivated to consume products and services that generate nostalgic feelings or connect them to meaningful memories and that nostalgia-oriented products and services increase psychological and social wellbeing.

In a new project focused on meaning and motivation, we are finding that the need for meaning orients people towards community-focused goals, volunteering, and charitable giving. More broadly, for most people, meaning is found in social and community bonds and thus the need for meaning activates the social self.

Select Publications

Abeyta, A., Routledge, C., Kersten, M., & Cox, C. R. (2017). The existential cost of economic insecurity: Threatened financial security undercuts meaning. Journal of Social Psychology, 157, 692-702.

Abeyta, A., Routledge, C., & Sedikides, C. (2017). Material meaning: Narcissists gain existential benefits from extrinsic goals. Social Psychological and Personality Science8, 219-228.  

Cox, C. R., Kersten, M., Routledge, C., Brown, E. M., & Van Enkevort, E. A. (2015). When past meets present: The relationship between website-induced nostalgia and well-being.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45, 282-299.

Routledge, C. (2015). Nostalgia: A psychological resource.New York: Routledge Press.