Do you have a meaningful life? Prove it!
Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, believed that people have a “will to meaning”, a drive to find purpose in life. Many people find a life without meaning and purpose to be empty and unsatisfying. However, if you ask most people whether they feel they have a meaningful and purpose-driven life they will tell you, “yes!” But is it true? Prove it.
II. Depression, anxiety, loneliness and the lack of meaning
Many of the sad and negative emotions people feel on a daily basis are caused or exacerbated by a lack of meaning, according to Frankl and the proponents of varies existential therapies. I agree. A life without meaning and purpose creates an existential vacuum in which happiness and joy seem hard to achieve. Some people say that it is not a lack of meaning in life that causes depression, but rather a chemical imbalance. However, many people, even when on anti-depressants, still feel an emptiness inside themselves. Feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, stress and anger are all related to a lack of meaning.
III. When money, power, fame and even wealth fail to create happiness
Why do people who seem to have everything – actors, musicians, artists, celebrities, athletes – often turn to drugs, commit crimes, have unstable relationships and, at times, commit suicide? These are the beautiful people! The people who have everything. Everything? I submit they have everything but meaning and purpose in their life. Even people who are married, have a family, a good job and financial security can feel a deep sense of emptiness and lack of fulfillment. Often, people who retire, live only a few more years. They no longer feel they have value or a reason to live.
IV. Age and Meaning
When people are young and middle-age, they are focused on building a life. They have a career, enter into a relationship, start a family, buy a house and try to live the “American Dream.” Nothing wrong with that. But where is the meaning? It is easy to ignore those occasional, fleeting thoughts and feeling when we are younger. You know, “is this all there is?”, “why do I still feel unhappy at times?” and that mild, low-level sense of unease, depression and ennui. But we are able to push it out of our minds more easily when young and busy. As we get older and slow down, retire, have the kids grow up and move out, we start to reflect on our life. What was it all for?
V. Do you have a meaningful life?
We can easily see how a doctor who heals people and saves lives has a meaningful life full of purpose and value. Maybe therapists, teachers and police and firefighters as well. But what about most people? What value do we contribute to the world? What is our purpose? Do you really have a meaningful life? Ok, prove it. Answer these questions:
- What do you do that is meaningful?
- How is that meaningful?
- Can you measure that value?
- Are you really contributing to the world? Making it a better place? How?
- How has your life added something to the world?
- Is the world a better place because of your existence?
Horace Mann, one of the Unites States’ first leading educators said, “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” What victory have you won? Think of your job or career. How has 20, 30, 40 years in that career or job been meaningful, valuable and purposeful? What meaning do actors give society? I don’t mean a few hours of entertainment, but rather something more long-lasting. What about sports figures. I can see how scientists and researchers add to society, but celebrities?
If you can genuinely and sincerely answer those questions, then you may very well have a meaningful life. Perhaps, even without being a doctor or curing cancer, you have found some purpose and have added some value to the world. But, if you struggle with apathy, emptiness, depression, loneliness, even when being in therapy and taking medication, maybe you have a lack of meaning and purpose in your life. I believe we all have a “will to meaning” and a major goal of life is to find that meaning. Better now than later.