Study examines what makes life meaningful for narcissists

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Narcissistic individuals are more likely to see extrinsic goals like wealth and fame as sources of meaning in their lives, according to research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The study found that narcissistic people tended to find more meaning in material rewards and praise from others than non-narcissists. Narcissists, compared to non-narcissists, were also more likely to see a college degree as valuable when it was presented as a means of achieving financial success.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Andrew A. Abeyta of North Dakota State University. Read his explanation of the research below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Abeyta: I was interested in this topic because I am generally interested in the pursuits that give people a sense of purpose or meaning in life. People high in the personality trait of narcissism, who psychologists refer to as everyday narcissists, are people who have a grandiose sense of self-importance or superiority. Everyday narcissists are status-oriented and motivated to pursue goals like fame and financial wealth that either enhance their social status or demonstrate their superiority to others. We wondered whether the pursuit of things like fame and wealth would give every day narcissists a sense of meaning or purpose.

What should the average person take away from your study?

On the face I think that the study confirms people’s suspicions about everyday narcissists, they highly value materialistic and financial pursuits and that these pursuits give them a sense meaning and/or purpose in life. However, I think the larger take away is that personality traits influence the pursuit of meaning in life. Specifically, this paper suggest that there is not one path to a meaningful life, but there are potentially many. For everyday narcissists, financial and material rewards are a meaningful part of life, whereas for people low in the personality trait of narcissism they are not.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

One questions that still needs to be addressed is whether these the pursuit of these goals is good or bad for psychological well-being. We provided evidence that everyday narcissists pursue goals of fame and wealth because they view them as meaningful and derive meaning from them. On the one hand, meaning in life has been found to be an important component of psychological health. However, there is also a lot of evidence that the pursuit of extrinsic goals such as fame and wealth are associated with negative things like anxiety, low self-esteem, and low life satisfaction.

Everyday narcissists pursue fame and wealth because they value these goals and the pursuit of these goals gives their lives meaning, but the pursuit of them might make them miserable in the long run. Ultimately, these goals might represent a less adaptive way of finding meaning in life. This is an important issue for future research.

The study, “Material Meaning: Narcissists Gain Existential Benefits From Extrinsic Goals“, was also co-authored by Clay Routledge and Constantine Sedikides.