Micael Dahlen Helge Thorbjørnsen


Although a COVID-19 infection can be fatal, the vast majority of people infected by the virus have, fortunately, survived. In this paper we investigate how recovering from this potentially fatal infection is associated with people’s perceived meaning in life. Can contracting and recovering from COVID-19 also have positive effects on people’s wellbeing by way of boosting their perceived meaning in life?
Drawing from theory on terror management and mortality salience, which suggest that threats to one’s health increase the need for meaning in life, we hypothesized that people who have had a coronavirus infection assess their perceived meaning in life slightly higher than average. We also hypothesized that recovering from this infection has made these people slightly more optimistic. We used data from an online survey in Sweden (April 2021, n = 1788) to examine the differences in perceived meaning in life between people who had recovered from COVID-19 versus people who had not been infected at all. The results show that people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection indeed rated their perceived meaning in life significantly higher than those who had not been infected. They also scored higher on optimism. These findings may suggest that people react to threats to their lives and existences by searching for, and finding, greater meaning in life. The relief of recovering from a COVID-19 infection may also boost people’s optimism regarding their future.