Exploration of meaning in life among the elderly in the emaSwati community in Mpumalanga
Thwala, Jabulile Prudence
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Meaning in life has been regarded in positive psychology as the critical resource for human functioning, striving as well as flourishing (Batthyany & Russo-Netzer, 2014). Several studies have been conducted; however, research on meaning in life faces critical hindrances that prevent its growth such as ambiguity of the construct (George & Park, 2016). Martela and Steger (2016) concluded that regardless of the rising interest in meaning in life and the fact that many have raised their concern regarding the conceptual refinement of the construct, researchers seem to have a common understanding that there are three main components of meaning in life, namely coherence, purpose, and significance. Earlier on, Mason (2013) argued that most of the studies conducted on meaning in life make use of the American-based quantitative self-report instruments to collect information; researchers tend to think that participants automatically abide by the Western view, which is shaped by values such as individualism. He pointed out that this could be a challenge when conducting studies in an African context where collectivism often informs functioning. This implies that cultural context may have a role to play in understanding and defining meaning in life hence it will be advantageous to study meaning in life in different and particularly non-Western cultural contexts. The aim of the present study was to explore the understanding and experiences of meaning in life among the older generations in an emaSwati context and also to investigate the unique cultural sources of meaning in life in an emaSwati culture. A qualitative research project involving 12 older adult participants from the Mdluli Tribal communities (Mpumalanga –Lowveld) participated in the study. Participants were asked how they understood and experienced meaning in life as well as some of their unique cultural sources of meaning in life. The findings revealed that meaning in life is understood as the spirit of Ubuntu and a sense of purpose through farming, family/community legacy and the well-being of their children. The results also showed that participants experienced meaning in life through support systems/relationships (family and neighbours’ relationships) and spirituality/religion which includes relationships with God, and their ancestors. Traditional celebration, proverbs and a sense of belongingness / connectedness were revealed as some of the unique cultural sources of meaning in life. The study has some limitations, including the fact that the study was conducted using participants from only one emaSwati Tribal Authority community, which limits the generalizability. Different findings may emerge if the study is replicated in another emaSwati or other African community. However, the study contributed to the existing knowledge on meaning in life. In particular the close association between the spirit of Ubuntu and people’s understanding of meaning in life as the unique cultural sources meaning in life shed light on distinctive experiences of meaning in life in this group which are not typically reflected in the bulk of literature done in Western contexts.
- Health Sciences